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ANALYSTS START GAZING INTO THEIR CRYSTAL BALLS

Elections draw closer

A FEW weeks ago the next parliamentary elections in Slovakia were nearly three years away. But in a blink of an eye the vote on the European bailout mechanism tied to a confidence vote in the government turned the Slovak political scene upside-down and politicians and the electorate now find themselves preparing for elections that are only just 16 weeks away.

A FEW weeks ago the next parliamentary elections in Slovakia were nearly three years away. But in a blink of an eye the vote on the European bailout mechanism tied to a confidence vote in the government turned the Slovak political scene upside-down and politicians and the electorate now find themselves preparing for elections that are only just 16 weeks away.

The March 10 parliamentary elections are expected to change the Slovak political landscape and redistribute power among the political parties. Many observers see Robert Fico’s return to government as one of the most likely outcomes, depending mostly on the mood among those voters who supported the centre-right parties in 2010 – who for the moment appear to be quite disappointed with the four-party coalition they put in power just 16 months ago.

Questions also remain about the political future of Iveta Radičová, the outgoing prime minister, as well as several MPs who have left their parliamentary caucuses who now may find it difficult to gain voters’ support. The two political parties speaking for the ethnic Hungarian minority in Slovakia that emerged prior to the 2010 elections due to a split in the Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) may also find it challenging to climb above the 5-percent threshold for entering parliament.

Smer regularly polls high

If elections had taken place immediately after the fall of the Radičová government, Fico’s Smer party would have had an absolute majority in parliament, capturing 83 seats in the 150-member body as it had 45.5-percent voter support in a poll conducted by the Polis agency shortly after the no-confidence vote.

The poll indicated that the only other parties that would have made it to parliament would be the four parties of the outgoing coalition: the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) garnered 14.3 percent support in the poll and would get 26 seats; the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) had 8.8-percent support and would get 16 MPs; Freedom and Solidarity party would have gained 15 seats with 8.3-percent support; and Most-Híd party would have finished just over the 5-percent threshold with 5.3 percent voter support, gaining 10 seats in parliament.

Come and go?

Several MPs currently sitting in parliament who left their parties since 2010 may now face an early end to their parliamentary careers. This includes Anna Belousovová and Rudolf Pučík who resigned from the Slovak National Party (SNS) this year but who have recently registered a new political party, Nation and Justice.

Similarly, the members of parliament who entered in 2010 on the candidate lists of parties other than their own might struggle to gain enough votes in 2012. Igor Matovič’s Ordinary People movement was able to leapfrog its four candidates on the SaS slate in 2010 into parliament but SaS expelled Matovič from its caucus in February. Matovič has announced that Ordinary People will establish a political party that will help independent candidates reach parliament.

Two other current MPs – Andrej Ďurkovský, formerly of KDH, and Igor Štefanov of SNS – are currently dealing with criminal investigations and could face prosecution. Although the current parliament is not likely to withdraw their parliamentary immunity they will automatically lose it if they are not re-elected. Ďurkovský has already announced that he will not be a candidate for parliament in 2012 while Štefanov has said he will run on the SNS slate if he is offered a slot.

Future representation of Slovakia’s ethnic Hungarian minority in parliament may be problematic, with Most-Híd party oscillating around the 5-percent threshold and the Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK), currently not in parliament, polling around 4 percent. The leaders of these two parties have not commented directly on the forthcoming elections but individuals within the SMK are saying that ethnic Hungarians should unite so they have strong representation in the future parliament.

But Gábor Gál of Most-Híd party told the Sme daily that he was not keen on the idea of joint representation with SMK, saying that SMK still includes people with opinions close to those of Miklós Duray, a politician known for nationalist rhetoric who often advocated autonomy for Hungarians living in southern Slovakia.

Radičová’s future

Outgoing Prime Minister Radičová has not commented directly about her future political plans. But her party, the SDKÚ, needs her among its leading figures and would be likely to lose many supporters without her, according to Ján Baránek, an analyst with Polis.

“If she doesn’t head the SDKÚ [candidate list] it could be reflected in the party’s result,” Baránek told The Slovak Spectator, adding that the decision depends on her personal desires as well as her discussions with Mikuláš Dzurinda, the party’s chairman.

In her recent interview with the Sme daily Radičová did not answer questions whether she would seek to head the SDKÚ’s candidate list or whether she wants to be on the party’s list at all.

Bailout as election issue?

“I do not believe the euro bailout mechanism is an election topic,” Baránek also told The Slovak Spectator. “It will dominate the debate in the way that they will blame each other for the dissolution of the coalition. So basically it will not be about the bailout mechanism itself but rather about what was happening around it [that will dominate the campaign].”

Sociologist Martin Slosiarik of the Focus polling agency added that he does not expect the euro bailout issue to dominate the campaign but that it will definitely be there because how Slovakia copes with Europe’s sovereign debt crisis will be among the leading issues on voters’ minds.

“In that framework the bailout mechanism cannot be avoided,” Slosiarik stated, adding that the three parties of the former coalition will present themselves as being responsible for preserving Slovakia’s image and will likely blame SaS for acting irresponsibly.

The other issues that will be part of the 2012 campaign will be very similar to those discussed by the parties before the 2010 vote, according to Baránek, specifying that issues such as nationality and minorities, rising consumer prices, the health of the economy as well as the eurozone’s sovereign debt crisis will be likely campaign topics.

“The elections were not long ago so it is possible that the issues will repeat again,” Baránek said. “There is no bottomless source of election issues anywhere.”

What of the centre-right voters?

Because most political analysts believe Smer party has a fairly stable voter base, they are predicting that the outcome of the March elections will depend to a large extent on the willingness of past centre-right supporters to vote for these parties once again despite the fall of the coalition formed after the 2010 election.

“Surely some part of the centre-right voters will remain disappointed or apathetic but centre-right voters are characterised by great flexibility and the ability to close not one but even two eyes [over mishaps by their politicians],” Baránek told The Slovak Spectator. “So I think they will come to vote even if that means grinning and bearing it.”

Baránek added, however, that his current assumptions could be challenged after the political campaign actually starts.

It is difficult to predict at this time whether disappointment among those who voted for the centre-right parties in 2010 will be more compelling than their desire to prevent Fico’s return to power, Slosiarik believes.

“It will depend on how the centre-right parties communicate,” Slosiarik said, adding that if they concede that there is the possibility of forming a government composed of Smer and one or more of their parties, they might discourage some of their supporters.

“For the centre-right parties it would be better if they made a clear distinction and kept operating with the threat of the return of Robert Fico,” Slosiarik said. “In that case they could maintain fear among their voters that could lead to voting for the centre-right parties, despite their disappointment.” But the sociologist added that the centre-right parties are facing a much more difficult challenge now in motivating potential supporters than they did in 2010.

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