Party slogans hit the billboards

NEW jobs, a crusade against public debt and corruption, more effective law enforcement, a simpler tax system, and security for citizens are some of the catchphrases coming from the election programmes offered to voters by political parties as the March parliamentary elections approach.

NEW jobs, a crusade against public debt and corruption, more effective law enforcement, a simpler tax system, and security for citizens are some of the catchphrases coming from the election programmes offered to voters by political parties as the March parliamentary elections approach.

Political pundits note that very few Slovaks actually read the parties’ election programmes, that the parties often try to make a connection with voters on an emotional basis rather than through rational arguments, and that Slovak voters are more likely to base their decision on a party’s past performance or to choose a party based on its most visible leaders.

Political scientist Miroslav Kusý does not believe most Slovaks are interested in reading the parties’ election programmes.

“I think the vast majority of voters do not look at the election programmes at all,” Kusý told The Slovak Spectator. “And sometimes these programmes are written in a way that repels voters from reading them.”

Some key issues

Several political parties have made reducing unemployment one of their key programme elements, with the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) promising in its “4 x 4 Solutions” to support the protection of current jobs and the creation of new jobs. Part of the campaign put forth by the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) also revolves around jobs with its election slogan: “The Path for Slovakia – It Starts with Jobs”. Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) promises to introduce measures under which people who receive social benefits will be offered jobs at minimum wages and if they refuse to accept them will lose their eligibility for social benefits, the SITA newswire reported.
The Smer party’s programme statements offer “security” for citizens, suggesting that the budget problems of the government should not be dealt with at the expense those at the bottom of society. Smer is also proposing a 25-percent tax rate for individuals whose income exceeds €33,000 and that corporations would have progressively higher tax rates when their taxable income is €30 million or higher.

The chairman of SaS, Richard Sulík, stated in mid January that his party would not support any income tax increases or a higher value added tax, but added that SaS might agree with cancellation of various tax exemptions. The SDKÚ said that if it was successful in the elections it would push for simplifying the income tax and payroll levy system while preserving Slovakia’s flat tax rate and having the newly-created Financial Administration of the Slovak Republic be the single place where all taxes, payroll levies and customs are collected.

The KDH said that if raising taxes is unavoidable, it will support a higher tax on “luxury products” and increased taxes on gambling, SITA reported.

Most-Híd, the party that says it seeks to pursue reconciliation between Slovaks and ethnic-Hungarians, calls its election programme “Only Responsibly” with one of its pillars being what it calls “responsible state policies”, which the party suggested to voters means that government ministries will not distribute bonuses or purchase expensive cars during times of economic crisis.
The SDKÚ also promised to continue reforming Slovakia’s judiciary, with Justice Minister Lucia Žitňanská stating that development of the country’s business environment is hindered by low enforcement of the law.

Is anyone reading?

Martin Slosiarik, head of the Focus polling agency, agreed with Kusý that only a small group of voters bother to read the parties’ election programmes.

“In today’s world of information excess and being overwhelmed with everyday duties the voters do not find time to read the election programmes,” Slosiarik told The Slovak Spectator. “Rather, most voters follow the political party they plan to vote for over a longer time period, look at its attitude to current issues in society, individuals associated with the party or how well it fulfilled political promises.”

Slosiarik said the parties must choose basic messages that can be relatively easily explained and communicated to voters during the election campaign.

“Inter-block shifts among the voters, between the right and left blocks, are not frequent and this is why the mobilisation of voters mostly happens within these blocks,” Slosiarik stated. “One has to remember that the link that is being created between the party and the voter often has an emotional rather than a rational basis.”

Ján Baránek of the Polis polling agency had an opinion similar to the other analysts, noting that Slovak voters often make their decisions based on individual personalities in the parties and slogans rather than the actual election programmes.

“Voters are not that systematic to study the programmes of the parties and based on that to come to their final decision,” Baránek told The Slovak Spectator. “Even though the voters like to claim they are systematic and read the programmes, this is not true.”

Baránek opined that Slovak voters listen to simplified messages and possibly react to the most positive ones.

“I have no illusions; the voters devote very little attention to election programmes,” Baránek stated.

The political pundits who have studied the parties’ 2012 election programmes said that because it has been only 18 months since the 2010 elections, the parties have not had much time for detailed analysis or modification of their election programmes.

Kusý told The Slovak Spectator that he has not noticed any fundamental change in any of the parties’ programmes and the only thing that had surprised him was the tactic of the Ordinary People and Independent Personalities party to feature independent candidates on its list. But Kusý added that this means that the party cannot even develop an election programme that would unite this wide-ranging group of people.

Kusý said it has primarily been Smer that has been building its election campaign around snappy headlines, without specifying or listing specific steps or actions it would undertake. But he noted that most Slovak political parties reach for billboard-type slogans to capture voters’ attention and that it is no longer possible to categorise party programmes as left or right, as was traditionally done.

“Now, perhaps, the orientation points for voters are whether these programmes are euro-sceptic or euro-optimistic,” Kusý told The Slovak Spectator, specifying that he was speaking broadly about the European Union and not only about the common currency. “The left-right accent is no longer significant.”

Kusý added that European issues are more likely to resonate with voters because of the sovereign debt crisis within the eurozone.

“The European discussion is much wider now, since we are talking about a crisis in the eurozone,” Kusý stated, adding that issues relating to the European Union are much too important for the parties to ignore during the election campaign.

Kusý told The Slovak Spectator that the message that Smer has been attempting to get across to voters is that people should not over-dramatise the eurozone situation because if a suitable political force emerges after the election, which Smer suggests is itself, then critical issues within the eurozone and the EU can be handled.

Certain issues are missing from the parties’ programmes, Kusý said, noting that human rights and minority issues are discussed in the platforms but mostly in a marginal or formal way, something he said is typical for Slovak parties.

“For many political parties the minority issue is treated as though it does not exist,” Kusý stated.

With Radka Minarechová and Peter Bagin

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