Sociologist: People do not understand VÚCs

PEOPLE do not yet fully understand the authorities of the self-governing regions, which impacts the turnout of elections to VÚCs, as the country’s eight regional administrative units are called in Slovak. Moreover, even the name “higher territorial unit”, which VÚC stands for in Slovak, sounds quite cold to the voter’s ear, according to Oľga Gyárfášová, a senior research fellow with the Institute for Public Affairs (IVO). Gyárfášová commented on the VÚC elections scheduled for 2013 in an email interview with The Slovak Spectator.

Oľga GyárfášováOľga Gyárfášová(Source: Courtesy of O. Gyárfášová)

PEOPLE do not yet fully understand the authorities of the self-governing regions, which impacts the turnout of elections to VÚCs, as the country’s eight regional administrative units are called in Slovak. Moreover, even the name “higher territorial unit”, which VÚC stands for in Slovak, sounds quite cold to the voter’s ear, according to Oľga Gyárfášová, a senior research fellow with the Institute for Public Affairs (IVO). Gyárfášová commented on the VÚC elections scheduled for 2013 in an email interview with The Slovak Spectator.

The Slovak Spectator (TSS): What is the attitude of Slovaks towards the regional elections? What significance do they attach to this vote?
Oľga Gyárfášová (OGY):
The regional elections are second-order elections for the voters. This is also suggested by the election turnout, which significantly lags behind the parliamentary, municipal and presidential elections. In 2009, turnout was less than 23 percent of the eligible voters, with the lowest turnout in the Bratislava Self-Governing Region. People place similarly low importance only on elections to the European Parliament.

TSS: What factors might, in your opinion, influence the turnout of the regional elections this year?
OGY:
Let’s take a look at what is causing the low turnout. People have not yet completely understood the authorities of the self-governing region (VÚC). But this is understandable, since the transfer of authority happened gradually. While this level of representative democracy has been functioning for a relatively longer period of time, since 2001, it is still shorter than the national and municipal level.

Another reason is that the current form of eight regions was not based on the natural territorial division and the name itself, “higher territorial units [VÚC]”, is a very cold and administrative concept. Today, a more natural name, “župan” [meaning county head], is gradually being applied to the president of the VÚC. Though there was an aversion to this name due to its historical burden, people seem to accept it as something closer.

The forming of different coalitions, often more on the basis of crony interests than ideological closeness, which are hard for the voters to read, is also problematic.

The election turnout this year will not be significantly higher than in the past. Larger politicisation, which is the polarisation of the race along the coalition-opposition line at the level of national politics, meaning the transfer of major and disputed issues from the national level to the regional, could mobilise voters. But this is a hypothesis rather than an “instruction manual”, and it can be expected that in each region a different logic of the election fight will apply.

TSS: On what criteria will voters select candidates for the VÚC? Is it a candidate’s party affiliation, or other factors?
OGY:
It is very individual. For some the campaign works, and some can be persuaded by a credible candidate; others will vote because they feel considerable loyalty to their political party. Elections to the VÚC are not municipal elections, where the strength of a credible candidate has more weight than that of the party, and not national elections, where the strength of the party matters.

With Radka Minarechová

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