ONLY days before the parliamentary elections, allegations have been made which could cast doubt on the participation of the new 99 Percent – Civic Voice party. The party has attracted publicity via a huge, though controversial, media campaign and has polled above 5 percent, the threshold for winning seats in parliament, in recent opinion surveys.
The police launched an investigation in late February into signatures submitted as part of the party’s official registration process after one of the signature collectors reported to the police that she had violated the law while obtaining them. The party subsequently accused the police of violating its rights and called on the Interior Ministry to verify the authenticity of the signatures on the registration sheets filed by all other new parties running in the March 10 general election. The Interior Ministry responded that there was no reason at present to examine the signature sheets of the other political parties.
99 Percent also filed a motion with Slovakia’s Constitutional Court asking it to immediately take a stance on the “unprecedented violation of people’s rights by Police Corps President Jaroslav Spišiak”, party spokesman Pavol Pavlík told journalists on March 5, as quoted by the TASR newswire.
On March 7 Spišiak said that the police would refrain from commenting on the investigation and assured the public that the police action was legitimate.
“The 99 Percent political party is currently running an election campaign on a confrontational basis,” said Spišiak in a statement. “They depict the Police Corps as evil and claim they need to be supported in their fight against this evil.”
A petition containing signatures of support from at least 10,000 citizens is required to register a new party in Slovakia. 99 Percent presented a petition containing 15,000 signatures to the Interior Ministry in December. The police said that when they chose 200 names at random from petition sheets that the complainant had identified as fraudulent, they discovered that the names were false, SITA wrote.
Spišiak said on March 7 that the police had also received a criminal complaint that alleged fraud and named 99 Percent as the alleged victim. He added that he was making this statement only because representatives of the party had publicly called on him to do so.
Meanwhile, Ivan Weiss, a leading candidate and financial sponsor of the party, stated that he had undergone a polygraph test to prove what he called the legality of the process of signature collection. He claimed that he had passed the test, which he said was carried out by British expert Terry Mullins in Bratislava, and had received a certificate to prove it, TASR reported.
The developments surrounding the registration of 99 Percent appear to have made some politicians nervous.
Justice Minister Lucia Žitňanská, a nominee of the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ), said that it is the police’s duty to act in such a way that the legitimacy of the elections is not put in doubt.
The leader of the opposition Smer party, Robert Fico, called on the Interior Ministry as well as the Central Election Commission to take a clear stand if it turns out that 99 Percent was registered on the basis of false signatures. He said he expects the ministry to release a statement on whether the party does or does not have enough confirmed signatures to run in the election so that decisions can be made ahead of the vote.
“We cannot leave the voters and the [other] political parties in uncertainty,” Fico said, as quoted by SITA. “Slovakia cannot afford such instability that after the parliamentary elections unsuccessful political parties can attack the parliamentary elections at the Constitutional Court and demand its repetition based on the suspicion of signatures being forged during the registration of the 99 Percent movement.”
Asked about the potential impact on the election if the registration of 99 Percent were to be ruled illegitimate, Marek Rybář, a political scientist with the School of Political Sciences at Comenius University, said that this was a tough question since Slovakia’s electoral legislation does not directly deal with such an eventuality.
“In Slovakia a political party can be dissolved under precisely defined conditions, but there is no option, as far as I know, to dissolve a political party based on the fact that it was registered on the basis of falsified signatures,” Rybář told The Slovak Spectator.
Rybář suggested that a very weird situation might emerge in parliament if, for example, 99 Percent gets 6 percent of the vote on March 10 and thereby makes it into parliament with the votes of several tens of thousands of people. He pointed out that “we would be claiming that the party is not legitimate due to problems with those 10,000 signatures submitted for the registration.”
According to Rybář, the emergence of 99 Percent has in any case been somewhat controversial. He pointed to several unanswered questions about the party’s financing as well as its extensive broadcast media campaign.
Though the law states that broadcast media are allowed to air political advertisements no earlier than 21 days before an election, private broadcasters TV Markíza and TV JOJ have been presenting what they term “sponsors’ messages” featuring people connected with the 99 Percent since January.
On February 1 the Council for Broadcast and Retransmission (RVR) sanctioned both TV Markíza and TV JOJ over the 99 Percent broadcasts, saying that they had violated the Broadcast and Retransmission Act, specifically its rules about broadcasting political advertising, the SITA newswire reported.
The performance of 99 Percent in the polls has surprised Rybář, who at the end of last year assumed that it essentially had no chance. He said that it is not a political party in the traditional sense, but rather a project.
“The campaign and [the party’s] messages are aimed at very specific groups of voters, but in principle they try to embrace a very wide range of issues, which are very often mutually contradictory,” Rybář said, adding that the party attracts disaffected voters from across the whole political spectrum.
Political scientist Miroslav Kusý said he believes 99 Percent is a one-off party, which has tried to shine ahead of the elections but will eventually disappear if it fails to make it into parliament.
“What I would call the demagogy of the party works very effectively with the people,” Kusý told The Slovak Spectator, adding that the party speaks to frustrated citizens.
Peter Bagin contributed to this story