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Little passion for regional polls

CANDIDATES for governors of Slovakia’s eight self-governing regions, known by the Slovak-language acronym VÚC, have been focusing on luring the hearts of voters in the November 9 vote with billboard slogans and rallies. However, there is very little explanation on how decisions made at regional levels might impact the lives of citizens, whose lack of understanding contributes to low turnouts at regional elections, according to experts.

CANDIDATES for governors of Slovakia’s eight self-governing regions, known by the Slovak-language acronym VÚC, have been focusing on luring the hearts of voters in the November 9 vote with billboard slogans and rallies. However, there is very little explanation on how decisions made at regional levels might impact the lives of citizens, whose lack of understanding contributes to low turnouts at regional elections, according to experts.

The Central Election Commission (ÚVK), which oversees the elections and is led by a nominee of the Communist Party of Slovakia based on a draw, said on October 29 that preparations for the elections are running smoothly without any complications.

“It has been standard as though a mandatory campaign,” political analyst Ján Baránek of the Polis polling agency told The Slovak Spectator on October 29. “This time there were no anti-Hungarian sentiments as was rather usual in the past.”

In short, as the campaign officially kicked off on October 23, in line with rules that limit campaigning to 15 days, there remains little to get excited about.

“This is the fundamental problem in the case of the regional elections, which are viewed by the voters as being of secondary importance,” Martin Slosiarik of Focus polling agency told The Slovak Spectator. “This happens despite the fact that at the regional level decisions about many significant issues, such as health care, education and infrastructure, which are impacting people’s lives in the regions, are being made.”

According to Slosiarik, it would help if the campaign was more explanatory and motivating to attend the vote.

“This however could not be expected from the candidates,” said Slosiarik, who expects the election turnout to stand at around the 25 percent average.

According to Baránek, these elections are not viewed as significant enough to evoke emotions as the presidential or parliamentary elections do.

“The public is able to envision and capture the role of communal politics, but the roles and authorities of the VÚCs are not that clear to them,” Pavel Haulík of the MVK polling agency told The Slovak Spectator on October 28.

The public learns about the functioning of parliament or the government from the mainstream media, but as far as the VÚCs are concerned, “the relationship is very lukewarm and the interest to learn about these issues is very weak”, he said.

“Information of course is obtainable, but it requires a certain effort from the people, which they are unwilling to put forth,” Haulík told The Slovak Spectator.

Bratislava gets attention

When asked about the most interesting races, Haulík said that it certainly will be the race for governor of Bratislava Region where, according to polls published by MVK and Focus, the incumbent Pavol Frešo, head of the opposition Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ), and Monika Flašíková-Beňová, backed by the ruling Smer, and Daniel Krajcer of the non-parliamentary NOVA party are the likely three top candidates.

“In Bratislava the chances of the candidates are relatively balanced,” Haulík told The Slovak Spectator on October 28. “Of course, the turnout might play its role, but it is unlikely that there will be any surprises except in Bratislava.”

Baránek agreed, saying the race between Smer’s Flašíková-Beňová and incumbent Frešo might turn into a proxy fight between Smer and the opposition.

“Bratislava remains the sole region which Smer has not taken in the previous elections,” he told The Slovak Spectator.

Slosiarik spoke in line with Baránek, suggesting that after the “triumphant victory of Smer in the parliamentary elections there are many expectations of how the race would turn out in the one-time strong bastion of the centre-right parties”.

Predictions tough to make

Baránek however admits that predictions for the regional elections are rather tough to make because “the turnout will be lower than is shown in the polls”. The analyst also warns that due to low turnout, the result might not objectively reflect the political preferences in particular regions, but it will rather reflect “how disciplined the voters of certain political parties are”.

Slosiarik agrees that the results of the elections to VÚCs do not have to necessarily reflect the real political preferences in the given regions and he suggests that the elections to regional parliaments and elections of the governors should be viewed separately since in the case of the second, the political affiliation might play a bigger role.

“In the vote for deputies, the personal profile of the candidate might have a relatively heavier weight,” Slosiarik said, explaining that the deputies represent smaller territorial units and the voters might be guided by their personal experience with the candidates or their view on what the candidates have done for the district.

“It depends on how informed the voters are,” Haulík told The Slovak Spectator. “As far as people are informed, they know the candidate and he or she is a kind of authority for them, people would vote for them even outside of their political party preferences.”

Since Slovakia lacks significant regional media, according to Haulík, people mostly do not have enough information for regional elections and finally they might make their decision based on which party backs which candidate.

Yet Haulík also suggests that mapping people’s political preferences on the basis of results of the elections to the VÚCs is rather problematic and it would be easier if the parties run separately. However, instead “smaller, more complex and sometimes less readable coalitions are being created”.

Radka Minarechová contributed to this report

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