COALITION SPLIT OVER WHETHER TO VOTE

Poll predicts referendum will fail

THE SIX-QUESTION referendum initiated by the Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) party that will be held on Saturday, September 18 will be Slovakia’s seventh exercise in direct democracy. Like most of the preceding referenda, it is not expected to be valid because of insufficient voter turnout. The only poll to gauge attendance suggests that only around 20 percent of voters will bother to cast a ballot. More than 50 percent must vote for the result to be valid.

THE SIX-QUESTION referendum initiated by the Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) party that will be held on Saturday, September 18 will be Slovakia’s seventh exercise in direct democracy. Like most of the preceding referenda, it is not expected to be valid because of insufficient voter turnout. The only poll to gauge attendance suggests that only around 20 percent of voters will bother to cast a ballot. More than 50 percent must vote for the result to be valid.

“It’s true that the parliamentary election changed the situation and several referendum questions became part of the government’s programme, but it’s also true that the process took place and it’s not possible to disturb it by casting doubt on the right of our citizens to initiate a referendum,” Radičová said, as quoted by the TASR newswire, as she announced she was going to vote in the plebiscite.

Not every other leader of the ruling coalition has followed her example. Most-Híd chair Béla Bugár said he would take part in the vote but the leader of the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), Ján Figeľ, said he was not planning to vote.

Smer and the Slovak National Party (SNS), the two opposition parties in parliament, did not recommend their supporters to vote.

Support for issues, but not for referendum

The Focus polling agency forecast that turnout at the referendum will only reach around 20 percent, based on a survey it carried out during the first week of September.

“We can say that most voters perceive the referendum as being unimportant or not very important, and therefore we can expect that the turnout will be around the level of the regional or European elections,” said Martin Slosiarik, an analyst with the Focus agency, as quoted by the SITA newswire.
Despite that, the poll revealed that Slovaks are positive about the issues the referendum touches upon. Over 86 percent of respondents stated that they agreed with the proposed reduction in the number of MPs to 100 from the current 150. A similar proportion said they supported amending MPs’ immunity, with over 83 percent of those polled in favour of stricter limits. The only referendum question that did not win the support of more than half of the respondents polled by Focus was the question of excluding public officials from the right to reply under the Press Code, with only 44 percent saying they would vote in favour of such a change.

Speaking in response to the survey results on September 13, SaS leader Richard Sulík argued that it would be wrong to place too much store by opinion polls.

“Let us be surprised, there is still one week ahead,” he said, as quoted by the TASR newswire, adding that SaS was planning an intensive campaign during the last week before the referendum and that the predictions could still be overturned.

However, political analyst Grigorij Mesežnikov did not share his sunny outlook. He said in an interview with The Slovak Spectator that he did not believe any of the six questions have the potential to attract sufficient voters to make the outcome valid.

“Although polls show that most citizens would answer at least five of the questions positively, none of them has the character that would suggest in the present situation that more than half of voters would turn out,” Mesežnikov told The Slovak Spectator.

The first three questions voters will consider are whether parliament should cancel mandatory monthly payments that support Slovakia’s public-service media, limit the immunity from prosecution that members of parliament enjoy, and reduce the number of seats in parliament from 150 to 100 from the next election term onwards. The remaining three issues deal with restricting government offices from purchasing cars worth more than €40,000, permitting internet voting in future elections, and excluding persons elected to public office from the right to reply granted under Slovakia’s amended Press Code.

Voting in the referendum will only be possible within Slovakia, where 5,060 polling stations will be open from 7:00 to 22:00 on Saturday, September 18. For the referendum to be valid, more than half of all eligible voters must take part.

The organisation of the referendum falls under the authority of the Interior Ministry which has been allocated almost €6 million from the state budget to cover the costs of voting. Slovakia’s Statistics Office, responsible for counting the votes, will get an additional €1.26 million. Altogether the referendum will cost around €7,224,000.

The referendum on EU accession held in May 2003 – a year before Slovakia actually joined the EU – was the only plebiscite to attract sufficient voters to make its outcome valid, with a turnout of 52.15 percent. Four other referenda failed because they did not meet the 50-percent turnout requirement. Apart from the referenda that failed due to low voter turnout, one other referendum, in 1997, was thwarted by political manoeuvring.

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