THOUGH preferential votes have been part of the voting system in Slovakia since 1990, they have grown in importance only in more recent years. Preferential votes leapfrogged 11 candidates from bottom positions on the parties’ candidate slates in June 2010 to holding seats in parliament because enough voters marked the circles next to their names.
According to Slovakia’s Election Act, a voter can vote for only one political party but within that party’s slate the voter can circle the names of up to four candidates they prefer to become MPs.
While preferential votes in previous elections had moved some candidates to slightly higher positions on their party’s slates, voters in the 2010 elections moved Igor Matovič and three colleagues from his Ordinary People’s group from the bottom of the Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) party slate to seats in parliament and the same preferential process meant four members of the Civic Conservative Party (OKS) on Most-Híd’s list became MPs. Preferential votes also helped Radoslav Procházka of the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), Ľudovít Kaník of the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) and Vincent Lukáč of the Slovak National Party (SNS), the Sme daily reported.
Representatives from the three most active political polling agencies in Slovakia expect that the number of preferential votes cast by voters will grow again in the March 10 elections.
“In these elections it [casting preferential votes] can be an even more important tool than in the past since voters perceive it as a way to elect ‘new’ politicians rather than ‘old’ [ones],” Martin Slosiarik from the Focus polling agency told The Slovak Spectator.
Pavel Haulík from the MVK agency added that people are more motivated to circle candidates they prefer as they have already seen that it is an effective way to move a certain candidate from a disadvantageous position on a slate to a position high enough that the person enters parliament.
Looking for new faces
One reason why there have been more preferential votes is an amendment to the Election Act passed before the 2006 elections that decreased the percentage of votes required for a candidate to move up his or her party’s slate. Before the 2006 election a candidate needed to get 10 percent of the votes for that party to move up the list; since the 2006 election having just 3 percent of the party vote will move a candidate up the list, Sme wrote.
Ján Baránek from the Polis agency told The Slovak Spectator that preferential votes can also serve as a kind of alternative to the current voting system in Slovakia in which there is only one country-wide election district and specific MPs make it into parliament based on their original position on the party’s slate or based on a large number of preferential votes.
Preferential votes are a way to give people some chance to choose the individuals who will represent them in parliament, according to Baránek.
“People seem to like looking for a way to balance the election system in which they vote for parties and not directly for individual candidates,” Haulík stated. “They want to compensate for this defect in the proportional, one-district system by circling [preferred candidates].”
When asked how voters choose the candidates who get their preferential votes, all three pollsters said that candidates who are more visible within the party or in society have a better chance of attracting preferential votes.
“If they [the politicians] are able to communicate well and clearly with potential voters, there is the chance they will get the circles,” Haulík stated.
Baránek told The Slovak Spectator that being a well-known personality in the geographical area where a candidate lives or works also plays a significant role in voters’ decisions.
Slosiarik added that in the 2010 parliamentary elections the most preferential votes within each party went to the leader of the political party except for Mikuláš Dzurinda, the chairman of the SDKÚ, who was not on the party’s slate. But he said the example of Igor Matovič and three others from the Ordinary People group entering parliament showed that the ability to mobilise voters on behalf of particular candidates can bring votes, not only the candidate’s previous political experience or reputation.
“In this way [via preferential votes] voters can tell the parties who they want to see in parliament and who they do not,” Slosiarik stated.
9. Mar 2012 at 0:00 | Radka Minarechová