Centre-right continues to dissolve

“FRAGMENTED” is not just a buzzword when talking about the centre-right forces on the Slovak political scene. For right-wing parties, disintegration is a reality.

The Sieť party’ s success in the polls suggests that voters want something new.The Sieť party’ s success in the polls suggests that voters want something new. (Source: TASR)

“FRAGMENTED” is not just a buzzword when talking about the centre-right forces on the Slovak political scene. For right-wing parties, disintegration is a reality.

The fall of the centre-right government in 2011 proved a disaster for centre-right forces, leading to a sweeping electoral victory for Prime Minister Robert Fico and Smer. Ever since, analysts and politicians have agreed that there is a need for cooperation and integration among the centre-right parties in order to be a competent competitor. With the 2016 elections less than two years away, this remains just theory.

Demand vs offer

Still, the numbers show that there definitely is a demand for a tangible alternative to Smer. The cumulative voter support for all the centre-right parties, which is considerably higher than that of Smer, proves this, Grigorij Mesežnikov, political analyst and president of the non-governmental Institute for Public Affairs (IVO), noted.

“How this demand is satisfied is another question, however,” Mesežnikov told The Slovak Spectator.
In the most recent poll of the Focus polling agency, carried out between June 3 and 10, Smer received 32.2 percent of the vote, down compared to May 2014 when it stood at 34.6 percent. The second strongest party, and the strongest among the right, is the newly-established Sieť, which stood at 15.8 percent in the June poll. It is followed by the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), which would take 9.3 percent of the vote according to the poll, and Ordinary People and Independent Personalities (OĽaNO) with 7.6 percent.

After that, a number of groups oscillate around the 5-percent parliamentary threshold: Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) with 5.5 percent, the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) and the non-parliamentarian Party of Hungarian Community (SMK) with 5.1 percent each, and Most-Híd with 5 percent. The NOVA movement (3.4 percent) would not make it into parliament based on the results of the Focus poll. The centre-right could comfortably account for more than 50 percent of the vote even without NOVA’s share.

“Now, the centre-right needs to eliminate the risk that the votes for those subjects that have found themselves in the risk zone, that is between 4.5 and 5.5 percent [voters’ support], will be lost,” Mesežnikov said. “There are several parties like that. And it is up to them to solve this situation.”

NOVA divided

NOVA is among such parties. Even though its preferences are currently only at about 3 percent based on the Focus poll, it does have a chance to succeed in 2016 elections - but only as a part of a wider alliance, according to Mesežnikov.

When Lipšic and his fellow KDH defectors announced they were founding the NOVA party in September 2012, observers said it could be a significant contribution to reviving the right-leaning forces on the Slovak political scene. Less than a year later, NOVA raised eyebrows when it invited liberals grouped around Jozef Kollár to join and set up a liberal wing within the party of Lipšic, himself a known conservative.

Kollár and his fellow former prominent SaS members were then freshly out of SaS, after Kollár lost in the election of the party chairman to incumbent Richard Sulík.

A year later, the merger seems to have lost its lustre. At NOVA’s June 28 presidium session in Detva, the presidium members changed the party statutes, abolishing the ideological factions within the party. Kollár and his liberal faction opposed the change, charging that Lipšic first had the presidium dismiss 20 of its members in absentia in order to lower the quorum to be able to pass the changes. They accused Lipšic of undemocratic and authoritarian practices.

The schism between the different ideological wings was preceded by the departure from the party of conservative Milan Krajniak, a long-time ally of Lipšic, on June 26, citing differing opinions about the direction the party should take.

Lipšic admitted prior to the presidium session that he erred last year when he invited the liberals to join his party. He told the Sme daily that his party’s result in the European Parliament elections was a disappointment and he blames this on the liberal wing of the party. NOVA won one seat in the EP, with its number two candidate, Jana Žitňanská, winning over the leader of the slate, Kollár.

Lipšic however insists that the change of statutes does not mean liberals are no longer welcome in the party.

“NOVA will not be an ideological movement,” he said, as quoted by SITA. “We have space here for liberals, conservatives, moderate conservatives, but we do not want to break it into ideological factions.”

Procházka vs Sulík

Meanwhile, Radoslav Procházka, another KDH defector, after coming in third in the presidential election with just over 20 percent of the vote, founded his own party, Sieť. It was officially registered on June 12 and, not unlike NOVA, it merges politicians from both the conservative (Procházka) and the liberal side of the centre-right (mainly Miroslav Beblavý, formerly with the SDKÚ. It is, however, proving to be more appealing to voters, according to opinion polls, with the most recent Focus poll showing its support at nearly 16 percent.

Within the first month of the official existence of his party, however, Procházka also made some enemies with other opposition politicians. First, there was his dispute with Igor Matovič of OĽaNO, who accused Procházka of non-transparent practices in financing his presidential campaign.

More recently, Procházka was reported to have clashed with Sulík. They fell out after SaS officially supported Procházka in his presidential bid, and he then in return endorsed the SaS slate for the EP elections.

“Before endorsing him, we wanted to know whether he understands the presidential election as an opportunity to found his own political party,” Sulík told Sme, saying that they did not believe that Procházka would found a party before the 2016 parliamentary elections. Procházka confirmed this in a written agreement, cited by Sme on June 27, with the note, however, that he will not found a new party as long as he is serving as an MP. This is also what he has been claiming publicly since his departure from the KDH in 2012. In fact, he has honoured this promise and left parliament after the May session.

SDKÚ crumbles

Turbulent times are not over for the “old” centre-right either, particularly the SDKÚ, which once led the reformist forces after 1998. Once the strongest party, which had a prime minister (Iveta Radičová) in 2010-2012, it now hovers around 5 percent in the opinion polls, making its parliamentary future uncertain.

The SDKÚ dropped in importance after the 2012 election and its already slim parliamentary caucus lost some of its heavyweights along the way, among them former justice minister Lucia Žitňanská, who recently joined another centre-right party, Most-Híd.

More recently, the two founders of the party, Mikuláš Dzurinda and Ivan Mikloš, left. On June 27, the SDKÚ caucus elected Ľudovít Kaník as its chairman. Meanwhile, however, the party continues to crumble. On June 19, Jozef Mikuš resigned from the position of the party’s deputy chairman. The three remaining vice-chairs (Ivan Štefanec, Martin Fedor and Viliam Novotný) remain in their posts for now, although Fedor had already said in May he would give up his position after the European Parliament election. He later changed his mind, Sme wrote. He has stayed upon the condition that party chairman Pavol Frešo accepts changes to how he leads the party.

Mikuš explained for the SITA newswire that Frešo’s decision to postpone the party congress from June to September 2014 is a serious intervention in the ongoing debate.

“He postpones the solving of problems ad infinitum,” Mikuš said. “He threatens the consolidation of the party before the municipal election and unduly shortens the time necessary to prepare minutely the parliamentary election in 2016. The only chance would be to summon a congress soon, which would initiate inevitable changes within the party; but the recent events convinced me that in the top structure of the SDKÚ, the willingness to take such a fundamental step has slackened.”

The congress was originally scheduled for June 28, and was to be summoned mostly due to disagreements over Frešo’s leadership. It is expected that the delegates may call for his dismissal. Several members of the party disagreed with changing the date. Some say that Frešo does what he wants and does not lead the party as he is supposed to. Others consider it a tactical move and are afraid that this scenario may be repeated in September, as reported by the TASR newswire.

However, the dissatisfaction with the chairman has been palpable for longer, and some members indicate they want to replace him, Sme wrote.

RELATED ARTICLE:Success based on alliances

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