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Election is spiced with intrigue

EVEN the number of billboards promoting local election candidates since September suggests that campaigns started well before the official October 29 launch date. Two weeks in advance of the November 15 elections, top Smer officials have begun to visit with voters, while the Sieť party is withdrawing some of its candidates and attempted election fraud has already taken place. Slovaks will select their mayors and members of municipal parliaments of more than 2,900 municipalities, including 138 towns and cities. Around one quarter of those who are running for mayoral posts are women.

EVEN the number of billboards promoting local election candidates since September suggests that campaigns started well before the official October 29 launch date. Two weeks in advance of the November 15 elections, top Smer officials have begun to visit with voters, while the Sieť party is withdrawing some of its candidates and attempted election fraud has already taken place. Slovaks will select their mayors and members of municipal parliaments of more than 2,900 municipalities, including 138 towns and cities. Around one quarter of those who are running for mayoral posts are women.

The campaign will end on November 13: 48 hours before the actual vote, when a moratorium goes into effect.

There are more than 500 municipalities where the elections are a mere formality because there is only one candidate. It is already clear that in 18 villages, the vote will have to be repeated as no candidates are running, according to the Sme daily.

Fico campaigns

Seven months after presidential elections and five months after European Parliament elections — both considered failures for the ruling Smer party — Prime Minister Robert Fico is again on the campaign trail. Since November 4, he has visited towns and cities around Slovakia supporting local Smer candidates. He visited, for example, Dohňany in the Púchov district where he formally gave a garbage truck to the municipality, Sme reported.

Jozef Mičieta of Smer, who serves as mayor of Veľké Rovné village in the Bytča district, sees the connection of municipality with government and prime minister as an advantage.

“I would see his presence in the [pre-election] meeting as a help,” Mičieta told Sme, “a huge amount of financial sources which our municipality received were from various donations through the Government Office or ministries.”

Smer ministers and regional politicians are also campaigning: for example, Deputy Parliament Speaker Jana Laššáková told Sme on November 3 that she is going to Žarnovica and Zvolen while Education Minister Peter Pellegrini plans to visit Rimavská Sobota. Laššáková added that Smer’s ambition is to get better results than in previous elections in 2010, when the party had 954 villages’ mayors and 74 mayors in towns and cities.

Sociologist Pavel Haulík of MVK polling agency, however, does not presume that top Smer officials could significantly improve the party’s results.

“It could cause mild mobilisation of voters of Smer,” Haulík said, as quoted by Sme, “but citizens of towns and villages know best what their candidates are about and the prime minister’s persuasion won’t change much about that.”

Uniting the right

Meanwhile, the Sieť party announced on October 18 that it wants to ally centre- and right-wing parties against Smer and initiated discussions about fielding joint candidates, Sme reported.

In Bratislava, Sieť originally nominated Tatiana Kratochvílová to face Milan Kňažko, a key figure from the 1989 Velvet Revolution, and the sitting mayor Milan Ftáčnik, who enjoys the support of Smer. At a press conference on October 27, Sieť leader Radoslav Procházka announced that Kňažko has become the joint mayoral candidate of the right wing in Bratislava after three members of the so-called Right Coalition backed him.

While Sieť, the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) and Most-Híd have voiced support for Kňažko, another member, Freedom and Solidarity (SaS), has refused to do so because of Kňažko’s ambiguous stance when it came to supporting Andrej Kiska ahead of the presidential election run-off against Fico in March.

Procházka withdrew Kratochvílová after a poll conducted by the MVK agency between October 9 and 14 suggested that Kňažko, an independent supported by the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), would win the Bratislava mayoral race with 34.4 percent.

According to the poll, Mayor Milan Ftáčnik, supported by the ruling Smer party, would finish second with 33 percent, and Ivo Nesrovnal, an independent, at 17.6 percent. Kratochvílová backed by Sieť, SDKÚ, Most-Híd and SaS would have picked up only 7.6 percent of votes.

Niké bookmakers set odds on the mayoral race at 1.42:1 for Kňažko, while Ftáčnik and Nesrovnal are 4:1, according to the Hospodárske noviny daily.

Unity is not so strong

Another Sieť’ nominee, Martin Ďurišin, cancelled his candidacy for mayor of the third biggest town Prešov on November 4. At the same time he supported his rival of right-wing coalition Andrea Turčanová backed by KDH, SDKÚ, Most-Híd, NOVA, Ordinary People and Independent Personalities (OĽaNO) and Civic Conservative Party (OKS).

“We gave the mandate to local representatives for trying to make an agreement [about joint candidates] because we consider it important that the best candidate will win here in Prešov,” Procházka said, as quoted by TASR.

In Košice, however, the effort to unify right wing parties has not been successful, since Alena Bašistová for Sieť and Rudolf Bauer, a former mayor backed by KDH, SDKÚ, NOVA, SaS, the Party of Hungarian Community (SMK), OĽaNO, OKS, Conservative Democrats of Slovakia (KDS) and the Democratic Party (DS) should fight for the mayoral post. Sieť spokesman Ján Orlovský said they are waiting until November 10 when the decision on supporting to one of them will be made, according to Sme. Smer supports the incumbent mayor Richard Raši, who once served as health minister.

In Nitra, Sieť’s candidate with the support of OKS Dominika Tekeliová will compete with currently serving Mayor Jozef Dvonč of mixed coalition Smer, KDH and Slovak National Party (SNS).

In reaction to the trend, Fico said the opposition is not as united as it claims and pointed out that Smer also has joint candidates, according to the TASR newswire.

“We went through the whole political space,” Fico said, as quoted by TASR. “We have coalitions with KDH, SDKÚ, Hungarian parties.”

There are 20 candidates who are running with the support of both Smer and SDKÚ which have been rivals at the parliamentary level for 15 years. Moreover, Sieť joined with Smer in 17 cases while in five municipalities it is just a pure coalition of those two parties without any other participants, Sme reported.

Two extraordinary situations occurred in regional cities a few weeks before elections: Banská Bystrica with a record high number of running candidates; 15 of them, while the current mayor of Trenčín Richard Rybníček will run again for the post as an independent candidate with wide support from right and left-wing parties, including the SMK, KDH, NOVA, OKS, SDKÚ, Most-Híd, SaS, OĽaNO, KDS and Smer, according to SITA.

“You have to look for people behind parties who are present here who live in this city and have specific experiences with my politics,” Rybníček said, as quoted by Sme in mid September. “Here, abortions, registered partnerships, or occupations of the Judicial Council are not discussed but rather development of the city, reconstruction of roads or questions about living or work and therefore they are assessed by results, not ideology.”

Election curiosities

Recently, several cases of vote-buying have already occurred, head of National Criminal Agency Daniel Goga told press on October 30. He informed that the agency has revealed corruption in the village of Bystrany in the Spišská Nová Ves district where accused Štefan Ž. offered meat to six people to gain their votes for post of mayor. In the second case Kristián S. offered help to Pavol S. who is running for the mayoral post in the town of Dunajská Streda, claiming that he is able to provide unspecified amount of votes to him for €2,000. A police agent was used in this case, according to Goga, TASR reported.

In the town of Púchov the police received a complaint against the town’s mayor Marián Michalec who allegedly used a video of children playing in a garden in his campaign spot without the consent of their parents. Pavol Hrobárik who is the father of one of those children filed the complaint on November 3, SITA reported.

Sme also published a story about regional newspapers which published biased stories or interviews supporting regional mayors.

For example, regional newspaper Bardejovské Novosti interviewed Bardejov Mayor Boris Hanuščak and his competitor Martin Šmilňák where they were able to respond only by “yes” or “no”. While Šmilňák had to answer hard questions about his qualifications, Hanuščak received questions which were not so difficult to answer, according to Sme.

“Many consider you to be the successful Bardejov mayor who has done a lot for town’s development in the past four election terms,” reads one of those questions, as quoted by Sme. “Even though there are voices saying that you have been successful for ‘too long’. Do you see it as certainty that there are ‘always’ unsatisfied people in every town… and that there is no person who as mayor could please everyone?”

There are also some candidates whose names have been connected with activities other than politics. For example, one of the most famous Slovak boxers Tomi Kid Kovács is running for mayor in Galanta. Also, singer Marián Greksa is running in the Bratislava suburb of Petržalka; former wrestler Jozef Lohyňa is vying for the seat of Prievidza mayor while Richard Rikkon, known for playing piano on the TV show Super Star, is running for a Bratislava assembly seat, according to Hospodárske noviny.

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