IT’S NOT often that shapes get to shape politics. But krúžky (little circles) made it, and they are starting to play a decisive role in Slovak elections. Preferential voting, done by circling up to four candidates on the ballot of your chosen party, had long been just an empty gesture, with little relevance to the final results and little political weight. Before the 2006 elections, however, the rules changed – before then, any candidate needed to get little circles from one tenth of his or her party’s voters to move up the list. Under the new legislation, all a candidate needed was three percent. That meant popular candidates got a real chance to get parliamentary seats at the expense of those who initially received better spots.
In 2006, the most notable event was that for the first time, the leader of a party did not receive the largest number of little circles – both Iveta Radičová and Ivan Mikloš got more than SDKÚ boss Mikuláš Dzurinda. The fact that the three changed positions when it came to distributing mandates didn’t have any immediate effect, but it did strengthen the position of Radičová, who in 2009 became a presidential candidate and in 2010 the SDKÚ’s election leader, after Dzurinda withdrew from the race.
But the 2010 elections showed the full force of circling – Igor Matovič and his three associates jumped from the last places on the SaS ballot straight into places four through seven, giving Matovič the chance to launch his spectacular political career. Similarly, four conservatives from the Civic Conservative Party (OKS) surprisingly made it into parliament on Most-Híd slate. Given that the coalition’s edge over the opposition was only four seats, the importance of the eight MPs that “circled-through” into the legislature, was enormous.
The 2012 elections are taking preferential voting to the next level. Matovič has come up with the concept of independent candidates running on a single ballot, with voters being asked to determine the final combination that makes it into parliament. SDKÚ vice-chairperson Lucia Žitňanská is promising to run for her party’s leadership if she receives more preferential votes than Dzurinda, in effect turning the election into a strange kind of primary. The SDKÚ hopes this promise will attract voters, and at the same time enable Dzurinda to stay on as party and election leader. At least for the moment.
Many disappointed voters are asking for more little circles and for the chance to distribute them among candidates from various parties. Finding several decent politicians just seems much easier than finding one decent party.
Circling has many flaws – the smallest party in the current parliament, the Slovak National Party (SNS), which in 2010 barely passed the 5-percent mark for making it into the 150-member body, got 9 seats. So even if your four candidates make it, they will always be in a minority within their party caucus. Ballot leaders are very unlikely to ever lose their seats. Matovič’s concept of putting together candidates with little common agenda means that if your preferred candidates don’t make it into parliament, your vote for the ballot can end up helping someone you completely disagree with. And Žitňanská’s promise for future change is not something Dzurinda and the rest of the SDKÚ necessarily have to pay attention to after the elections.
But whatever the problems, circling has an exciting future. Obviously, circles are in no way square.