No big comeback for non-parliamentarians

TWO PARTIES that were left in shock after losing all their seats in parliament following a poor showing in the June general election are now having to face up to a second disappointment.

TWO PARTIES that were left in shock after losing all their seats in parliament following a poor showing in the June general election are now having to face up to a second disappointment.

The Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), the party of former prime minister Vladimír Mečiar, and the Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) had been looking to the municipal elections as a chance to revive their positions on the Slovak political scene. But there were no big comebacks in these elections.

The mediocre results cast into doubt their hopes of using the municipal election results as a springboard for renewed success at the national level, although analysts say the SMK has more to be optimistic about than the HZDS.

The outcome of the municipal elections shows that the position of the HZDS has weakened rather than strengthened.

Compared to 2006, when Mečiar’s party won 212 mayoral positions on its own (not including mayors it supported as candidates in coalitions with other political parties), four years later the number shrank to about one third of that, with HZDS candidates winning only 77 mayoralties. Despite that, the party's spokesperson, Stanislav Háber, wrote in an official statement that the party was happy with the results.

Political analyst Grigorij Mesežnikov, however, does not share Háber’s optimistic interpretation of the results, and says HZDS is continuing to weaken.

“They have some structure, so there is some support for them in the countryside sufficient to get some mayoral and some council posts, but that’s about all,” Mesežnikov told The Slovak Spectator.

Of the two formerly strong parties that were pushed out of parliament in the June elections he was more optimistic about SMK which he says, unlike HZDS, still has something to offer voters.

“SMK still offers an alternative as a minority party,” Mesežnikov said, saying that SMK’s support in future will also depend on whether its main rival, Most-Híd, which is now part of the national ruling coalition, will be able to live up to the expectations of the Hungarian minority.

Although Most-Híd emerged successful from the parliamentary elections, the municipal elections results suggest that SMK still retains a strong influence at local level. While Most-Híd alone managed to win 95 mayoral posts, SMK won 129.

That is still many fewer than the 216 which SMK won in 2006, when it ranked second overall based on the number of mayoralties it won on its own.

“It’s a success for a non-parliamentary party,” SMK head József Berényi said, as quoted by the Sme daily. He also said that SMK did not really lose because it managed to retain the same number of mayors in towns that it had four years ago, before a group of renegades around former leader Béla Bugár left the party to establish Most-Híd.

According to the Sme daily, SMK was more successful than Most-Híd mainly in areas where the Hungarian minority is relatively homogenous, such as Žitný Ostrov – which includes towns like Dunajská Streda and Šamorín – and Moldava nad Bodvou.

On the other hand, Most-Híd achieved more success in villages. It won only one mayoral post in a town, Galanta.

The rivalry between SMK and Most-Híd did not prevent them from agreeing on several joint candidates, 19 of whom were successful in mayoral races. Nevertheless, their competition in some cases granted victory to third parties in municipalities that normally show strong support for ethnic Hungarian candidates.

That was the case of Komárno, a town in southern Slovakia, where independent candidate Anton Marek won the race thanks to a fight between the two Hungarian parties; Most-Híd’s Tibor Bastrnák, the incumbent mayor, will now step down.

Mesežnikov noted that although weak, SMK is in a more favourable position after the municipal elections than HZDS.

“Their advantage, not only in municipal politics, is that they still have their electorate,” he said. “They can rely on a section of the voters, the ethnic Hungarians, and this has been enough in the elections to win them some mayoral seats.”

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