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A rough year ahead for Fico

THE YEAR leading up to elections in Slovakia is always especially fascinating as party sponsors shed their remaining inhibitions and ransack public coffers before the music ends.

Prime Minister Robert Fico(Source: SITA)

Like other illiberal democracies, Slovakia has a dishonourable tradition of feckless theft by political sponsors in the year leading up to general elections. The 2006 ballot, for example, was preceded by feverish vote-buying in parliament and the quiet acceptance of Penta as an unofficial Dzurinda coalition partner. 

The ensuing Fico coalition got started on its pre-election graft frenzy a little earlier, in 2008, with the euro-conversion and the Interblue Group emissions scandals, followed by the solar power scam of 2009 and, in 2010, Fico’s own (alleged) taped admission of having used “my own brain” to raise off-the- books financing for his Smer party. In 2012, you may remember, it was Gorilla, which broke only three months before scheduled elections.

So we can perhaps be forgiven for waiting, with baited breath, to see what crawls out of the sewers this time around. Given that Fico promised recently that he wouldn’t seek early elections, my bet is on a nasty final bill for the 2007-2013 EU funds programme period, which will be calculated at the end of December 2015 and could hit as high as a billion euros. This is money that Slovakia will have to fork over (principally due to bungled transport infrastructure projects, but also from schools and health care).

Scandals are sure to yield some vote-killing potential as well, among them a VAT carousel fraud that began during the first Fico regime and that allegedly involved some top Smer political and police appointees. But Smer-positive lobbyists like Miroslav Výboh are also more than capable of providing excitement, so we shouldn’t count our rotten eggs before they start to smell.

What makes this interesting is that Smer is likely to come under pressure on the political front as well. The SNS has recently started polling at more than 5 percent support (Polis 5.7, Median 4.9, Focus 5.1), a trend that, if it continues, could lure away a sizeable chunk of current Smer voters who until now believed ballots cast for the SNS would be wasted. And were Iveta Radičová to step back into the ring – openly bankrolled, perhaps, by a certain software company – the 2016 elections could be among the most interesting in recent memory.

What a pity, then, that the expression “may you live in interesting times” is more of a curse than a blessing.

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