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Mesežnikov: 2015 will be a pre-election year

THE ELECTION of Andrej Kiska as Slovakia’s president has marred plans for creating a softer version of a Putin-type regime, political analyst Grigorij Mesežnikov, president of the Institute for Public Affairs (IVO) think-tank said in an interview with the Sme daily and The Slovak Spectator.

Grigorij Mesežnikov (Source: Courtesy of IVO)

THE ELECTION of Andrej Kiska as Slovakia’s president has marred plans for creating a softer version of a Putin-type regime, political analyst Grigorij Mesežnikov, president of the Institute for Public Affairs (IVO) think-tank said in an interview with the Sme daily and The Slovak Spectator.

Mesežnikov spoke about what 2015 might bring politically, the fragmentation of the right-wing and possible developments stemming from the referendum on family that Slovakia will see early this year.

Sme/The Slovak Spectator (TSS): The year 2014 was called “super-election” year, what do you think the year 2015 could be called?

Grigorij Mesežnikov (GM): Seen in this way, it is a trivial statement, but the year 2015 will be a pre-election year. In a pre-election year, Slovakia has often seen marked shifts that have changed the configuration of the political scene. The pre-election situation has influenced political steps of ruling forces and brought certain rearrangements within oppositional parties, and thus the year 2015 will be decisive for the development of society after the next parliamentary election. I expect debates about various post-election coalitions and there will surely be an effort towards integration and decreasing the fragmentation of the promoted centre-right parties. The ruling party will do everything possible to keep its current share of power. However, this has been markedly reduced in 2014 with Andrej Kiska being elected president, and thus the plans to create a softer version of a Putin-type regime were marred.

Sme/TSS: How do you perceive last year’s speculations about an early election and the prime minister’s statements about a possible withdrawal?

GM: There will be no early election, and Robert Fico has no such interest either. Ruling parties rather try to use the election term fully to strengthen their position exactly before the election and to communicate the results of their rule. It may be an effort to test reactions in their electorate – or the opposition environment – but from the practical point of view, this is out of the question. Smer would have difficulties to communicate why it reduced the election term when Robert Fico claims that the year 2014 was successful for the party. Moreover, it could evoke a quick reaction of opposition parties in the form of creating coalitions which could turn counter-productive for Smer. Even though Smer is still the strongest party, its election support is not enough to form a one-party government like in 2012, and so far the opposition has shown no interest in cooperation with Smer. I do not expect any of the centre-right parties to create – after the 2016 election, when Smer will not have enough votes, a single party government, or to join it for a ruling coalition.

Sme/TSS: As for the centre-right spectrum, do you rather expect merging, or further fragmentation of these parties?

GM: There are still new projects emerging, and people have been losing overview of the situation. But this process has certain limits, and after several months, when these parties have been defined, it will be clearer who develops which political project and what support he has. By mid 2015, it will be easy to recognise who are the main players and this better transparency of the situation should reveal an effort in the centre-right spectrum at least for collaboration, if not for merging, so that these parties can make it into parliament. Parties with preferences below 5 percent will strive either for coalitions, or for joint slates with famous names on them. Then, it will show how the right is able to win over the electorate so that the most votes possible do not get lost.

Sme/TSS: What is, in your opinion, behind the centre-right’s instinct to split, despite this part of the political spectrum getting non-transparent and chaotic?

GM: These are personal ambitions and an inability to co-exist on different opinion paths within one party, which has a destructive effect. But this phenomenon does not just go for the centre-right parties. Even in the case of a big party like Smer, some people from its leadership have left unobtrusively, although not always for differences of opinion. However, this process does not have such a ruining effect for the party. In mid-sized or smaller parties, the inability to co-exist in the form of factions leads to the walkouts of ambitious individuals, and thus to splitting and to ensuing dissatisfaction of voters who then become non-voting citizens or indecisive voters. This development is complicated by the inability to estimate whom these voters will give their vote to, if their party really falls into ultimate preferential misery.

Sme/TSS: As you have already mentioned, last year several important representatives of Smer left their positions as well. Do you expect more staff changes in the ruling party?

GM: I do not suppose there are conflicts looming that could weaken Smer from inside. This party really holds and falls due to a single politician, and his leaving would be a huge blow for Smer. Troublesome situations, like for example the “voluntary” departure of [former speaker of parliament] Pavol Paška, created no inner conflicts. Smer is a party of an autocratic leader which operates in a liberal democracy and basically sticks to these rules, although simultaneously unhealthily concentrating power, and thus worsening the quality of democracy. In this party, the authority of its leader is so large that the emergence of any faction groups is impossible. Moreover, the party can saturate, thanks to its power positions, various, and not only political interests of various circles, as we have witnessed in some cronyism-corruption scandals. This creates the possibility also for potential interested individuals in stronger positions within the party to take alternative steps, and does not force them to oppose either Fico, or Smer, because everybody is satisfied.

Sme/TSS: By the end of 2014, Fico acted more resolutely in the cases of corruption scandals that emerged in the health-care sector, than it used to be common in the past. What do you see as the reason behind this?

GM: I ascribe this to the concern that they might lose the voters’ support at the moment when the cases understandable for the public become concentrated. From the point of view of the volume of unjustly distributed public resources compared to other cronyism cases, the financial impact was not too grave, but it was connected with the sphere which common people often are in touch with. Self-identification of people with these problems was very strong. The social rhetoric of Smer was in contrast with how Smer representatives were involved in the case of the overpriced purchase of a CT scanner. Smer preferences are stagnating and when people came to the streets to protest, Fico evaluated the situation in the way that it is better to act than to defend the situation.

Sme/TSS: Can the Alliance for Family’s (AZR) referendum influence the political scene? Will politicians try to use this referendum to their advantage?

GM: So far, political activities are rather meek. I think the referendum creates an uncomfortable situation for all important parties. Even from the point of view of the Christian-democratic Movement (KDH) which generally supports the stance of AZR concerning the issues of marriage and traditional family, and which has pushed through the amendment of the Constitution. Even for KDH, this is something redundant and moreover, it complicates the relations among parties. In this case, they cannot stay absolutely inactive, but so far I have not seen a distinct effort of KDH to win voters through this. I even do not think that this will happen. With the referendum taking place in the beginning of this year, and political memory in Slovakia being relatively short, it will be forgotten by the year’s end. For Smer, this is a very uncomfortable situation, and it has a problem defining its stance. Culturally, Smer is not a progressive party, and social democracy is an empty label in its case. They are conservative in many ways. In fact, it is a party of traditional voters and traditional policies which uses “popular” explanation in many cultural and ethical issues. Smer says that referendum is a legitimate tool, but if the result was positive for the Alliance for Family, it would not be a big victory for Smer. As Smer is formally a part of social-democratic structures, its European partners would surely not praise it for the fact that in Slovakia, legislation contrasting with social-democratic credo is being pushed through – and moreover, under the rule of a single party. This is a case that divides the society. Let us not get confused by the results of public opinion polls from one year ago, when a big part of the public was inclined to these conservative solutions. I do not think that people consider this issue so important that they would take part in a referendum. From the point of view of political parties, the polarising effect of the referendum is not so advantageous that they could mobilise their voters – surely not Smer. I suppose that in the end, there will not be a quorum and then everyone will try to forget it as soon as possible.

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