Elections draw independents

NOVEMBER’S municipal elections are not likely to be about traditional competition along left and right political lines with independent candidates making up a significant share of those running for office. The phenomenon, analysts say, is indicative of the reduced appeal of the country’s most-established political parties.

NOVEMBER’S municipal elections are not likely to be about traditional competition along left and right political lines with independent candidates making up a significant share of those running for office. The phenomenon, analysts say, is indicative of the reduced appeal of the country’s most-established political parties.

Elections take place on November 15 and people will decide about mayors and parliamentarians of more than 2,900 municipalities including 138 towns and cities. Lists of candidates were closed on September 21 and the election campaign starts on October 29.

Even there is no central register of candidates in Slovakia data provided by eight regional cities show that share of candidates who run as independent in those cities is almost 28 percent, the Sme daily reported.

“It is [caused] by overall untrustworthiness in the institution of political parties in Slovakia,” Focus polling agency Director Martin Slosiarik told The Slovak Spectator. “Capable people who want to enter politics do not want to be spoiled by stigma among parties right from the beginning.”

Supporting independents

In some towns and cities independent candidates received support even from parties which failed to propose their own candidate. The country’s most popular party, Smer, did not propose its own candidates in regional capitals like Bratislava, Trenčin, Banská Bystrica or Prešov, according to Sme.

“We [Smer] will not nomine candidate who will not have chance at success,” Vladimír Maňka of Smer’s administrative committee said, as quoted by Sme.

It is not weakness of Smer, according to Maňka, who added that for party is more important to propose candidates able to properly manage municipality than to have candidate in each of regional cities.

“This is weakness in all cases,” MVK polling agency chief and social analyst Pavel Haulík told The Slovak Spectator. “Political parties loose their ability to address voters and are somewhat idealogically and personally drained.”

There are approximately 21,000 seats for regional MPs and around 2,900 mayoral posts, according to the Týždeň weekly. Demands of municipalities for politicians are huge and Slovak parties, which generally hesitate to accept large amounts of people or do not proactively seek them, do not have capabilities to fulfil them, according to Haulík.

Trenčín, the exemplar case

In Trenčín, the current mayor Richard Rybníček will run again for the post as an independent candidate with wide support from right and left wing parties, including the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), NOVA, Civic Conservative Party (OKS), Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ), Most-Híd, Freedom and Solidarity (SaS), Ordinary People and Independent Personalities (OĽaNO) and Smer, according to the TASR newswire.

“Trenčín is exemplar case when parties are not able to slate candidates who would be able to compete with the independent candidate Rybníček,” Haulík said, adding that parties support independent candidate rather than “admit their own impotence”.

The situation in Trenčín is caused by the fact that mayor’s results are decisive factor in municipal policy not ideology, according to Rybníček, the Pravda daily reported.

“I do not think that parties would not have candidates to propose,” Rybníček said, as quoted by Pravda. “They rather accepted my work and considered it pointless to slate other candidates.”

Rybníček added that as independent candidate he is able to cooperate with municipal MPs who decide more as Trenčín inhabitants and less as party members in some cases.

It is true that local politics are more related to local problems than ideological struggles, according to Haulík who added that increasing number of independent candidates could be positive trend in regional politics.

“MPs, particularly those in smaller municipalities, deal with specific problems such construction of sidewalk or canalisation or how to spend that money in different way,” Haulík said. “This truly does not have standard ideological left-right or conservative-liberal dimension.”

On the other hand, political analyst Grigorij Mesežnikov casted doubts about such ideas since even solution of local problems are connected with parties’ programmes and it matters whether right wing or left wing party proposes solution, according to him.

“But it is objective fact that people think that independent candidates are able to solve such problems more effectively and parties start to adapt to that,” Mesežnikov told The Slovak Spectator. “Instead of providing better candidates they support independent candidates.”

Activists target Bratislava

In Bratislava, 10 candidates run for a post of city’s mayor, while seven of them are independent. Incumbent mayor Milan Ftáčnik, who is running as an independent with support from Smer, Milan Kňažko running as an independent supported by KDH, Ivo Nesrovnal running as an independent after he left SDKÚ and Sieť’s candidate Tatiana Kratochvílová with support of SDKÚ-DS, Most-Híd and SaS are among them.

Further, 308 candidates run for post in municipal parliament while 54 are independent, 46 are nominated by coalition of Sieť, SaS, Most-Híd and SDKÚ, 45 from a collation of KDH, OĽaNO and Zmena zdola (Change from the Bottom) and 43 candidates from a coalition of Smer, the Slovak National Party (SNS) and the Green Party, the SITA newswire reported.

Elections in Bratislava attracted more activists than in the past. Miroslav Dragun, the head of the No to the Pipeline civic association, is running for mayor and some members of Bratislava Embellishment Association are candidates. Also environmental activist Elena Pätoprstá, and current MP of Bratislava’s municipality Oliver Kríž who transformed civic association Mladá Petržalka (Young Petržalka) into a political party, are among the candidates, Sme reported.

People realise that activism does not have sufficient power to introduce changes and position in local parliament gives them more possibilities how to run their projects. The rising number of activists in politics could be positive trend in a case where they are just supplementing regular political parties not compensating for them, according to Haulík.

On the other hand, activists who run for mayor do not have big chance of success since their activities can attract just small number of voters. Their place is rather in municipal parliaments where they can deal with specific local problems, Slosiarik said.

Fragmented opposition

Instead of creating big coalitions, opposition parties slated more than one candidate in five regional cities. For example, in Banská Bystrica KDH proposed its member Peter Lačný, SaS slated Miroslav Ivan, Sieť Marian Korytiak, SDKÚ supports independent candidate Ján Nosko and current city mayor Peter Gogola runs for a post as independent, according to Sme.

Most of right-wing parties in Nitra are without candidate since independent Tomáš Galbavý suddenly cancelled its candidacy. KDH together with Smer and SNS slated current mayor Jozef Dvonč and Sieť proposed Dominika Tekeliová.

Right and centre parties succeeded in creating a unified coalition in Trnava with Ján Žitňanský, the joint candidate of KDH, SDKÚ, OĽaNO, NOVA and SaS with support of Most-Híd and the Greens. He will compete against Smer’s candidate Bystrík Stanko, SNS candidate Róbert Schmidt and two independent candidates, Peter Bročka and Jozef Klokner.

The opposition parties behave like there is a second chance in municipal elections and that people voting for an unsuccessful right-wing candidate will vote for another in the second round, according to Slosiarik.

“In this case votes for unsuccessful candidates from first round cannot be distributed [among others] because there is no second round,” Slosiarik told The Slovak Spectator in mid September.

On the other hand, the current disunity among the right-wing opposition parties is not very important for the municipal elections, with the exception of mayoral posts in regional cities, where people usually do not know the candidates personally and party affiliation may be decisive. Solo candidates from opposition parties are also at a disadvantage against a strong candidate of Smer, according to Haulík.

Will Smer repeat success?

In the last local elections 599 of 2,907 mayoral posts in towns and cities were won by Smer’s candidates, with Smer joint candidates filling 930 more seats. Also 4,764 Smer-proposed candidates for municipal MPs were elected.

Despite some recent failures in regional elections, elections for EU parliament as well as Prime Minister Robert Fico’s defeat in the presidential race, Smer aims to repeat its success from previous municipal elections, according to Maňka.

“The success in municipal elections is very important,” Maňka said, as quoted by Sme. “The first line of people who are directly in touch with citizens is elected and it is up to them how they will be able to help people.”

On the other hand, it is odd that Smer, the party which gained almost 45 percent of votes in last parliament elections, is not able to propose its own candidate in all regional cities, according to Haulík.

“I see it in a way that Smer does not care much about those results,” Haulík told The Slovak Spectator in mid September. “Smer just needs to say how much mayors it has in towns and how much of them in large cities so it won [elections] and it ends there.”

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