Centre-right still looking for unity

WITH campaign season in the run up to next spring’s general election around the corner, the weak and divided centre-right has less than a year to come up with a strategy for challenging Prime Minister Robert Fico’s ruling Smer party.

Béla Bugár.Béla Bugár. (Source: Sme - Vladimír Šimíček)

“It’s plain to see that with the fewer subjects running [in the elections], the higher the probability that the centre-right bloc will be stronger after the election,” Grigorij Mesežnikov, political analyst and president of the Institute for Public Affairs non-governmental think tank, told The Slovak Spectator. 

Though there are fewer parties that look to be contenders than in past years, it was nonetheless on the rise in recent days as two new political parties appeared near the end of March. 

In the meantime, parties have begun talking about possible election alliances and joint candidates. 

Talking cooperation

Most-Híd, for instance, is concrete in its intention to “build an alternative to the ruling Smer” together with the Christian Democrats (KDH) and Sieť, Most-Híd leader Béla Bugár said in late March. 

Smer is to be blamed for the “huge amount of problems” Slovakia faces and needs to be replaced by politics with a “legible programme and the courage to stick with it”, Bugár said. To build a functioning government after the 2016 elections, it needs to be composed of parties with programme proximity and the ability to cooperate. 

Sieť leader Radoslav Procházka, a former KDH member and a failed presidential candidate, however, dismissed such talk saying that it is too early to talk about post-election coalitions. He did not name any potential partners for his Sieť party and only said that they will be “ready to cooperate with others that get a mandate from voters and who will identify with the Sieť idea of the state as a space of practical service for citizens”, as quoted by the SITA newswire. 

Most-Híd’s idea of cooperation among the named three parties is “an attempt to revitalise the People’s Platform”, a previous cooperative body, political analyst Juraj Marušiak of the Slovak Academy of Sciences told The Slovak Spectator. The People’s Platform was a grouping of three centre right parties Most, KDH, and the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ). The latter member has seen numerous defections in recent months and looks unlikely to reach parliament on its own after the next election.

At the same time, Marušiak noted that neither Sieť nor Most-Híd can be sure that they will make it to the parliament in 2016, “given the current development of preferences”. 

The polls

Opinion polls published in March show varying voters’ preferences on the right side of the political spectrum. In both published polls, by the MVK and Polis agencies, Smer oscillates around 38 percent. But while Sieť came second in the Polis poll with 9.3 percent of the vote, in the MVK poll it stood at 7.8 percent, down 4 percentage points compared to November 2014. KDH finished second in the MVK poll, with 11.5 percent of the vote. In the Polis poll it received 8 percent, the same as Most-Híd. 

In the MVK poll, the Ordinary People and Independent Personalities (OĽaNO) would also make it to parliament with 7.7 percent, along with Most-Híd with 7.1 percent, the Party of Hungarian Community (SMK) with 5.4 percent and the Slovak National Party (SNS) with 5.1 percent, the TASR newswire wrote.

Of the current parties sitting in the parliament, neither SDKÚ nor Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) received enough support to pass the 5-percent threshold needed to gain parliamentary seats, receiving 3.5 and 2.6 percent, respectively.

The Polis poll showed OĽaNO in third position with 8.8 percent and the SNS would also get some seats, with its 6.2 percent of votes. Other parties would garner less than the 5 percent necessary to reach parliament: SMK polled at 4.7 percent, SaS at 3.8 percent, NOVA at 2.8 percent, and SDKÚ at 2.2 percent. 

KDH embraces Hlina

Despite some polls suggesting otherwise, KDH remains the strongest opposition party at this time, analysts contend, as it can still rely on its stable electorate. Recently, the party acquired a new member in its parliamentary caucus when Alojz Hlina, elected to the parliament on the slate of OĽaNO, joined the KDH caucus on March 24 and launched talks about possible election cooperation with the party. 

Hlina, who after leaving the OĽaNO caucus founded his own party, Citizens, has not attracted much voter support over the past months and failed to make it in the polls. He did not rule out the possibility that he might appear on KDH’s election slate. He claimed his party will not go into the election race alone. 

“Definitely this alliance shouldn’t harm KDH,” Mesežnikov said about Hlina’s joining its caucus, explaining that Hlina has profiled himself as a conservative person with traditional, slightly nationalistic values. “Perhaps they are attempting to address younger voters, as Hlina with his happenings and actions has been attracting interest.”

Marušiak, who called Hlina a “political clown”, opined that Hlina is unlikely to make a career in the party, since he is “too ‘new’ in KDH and at the same time too individualistic”. 

The newcomers

Hlina’s Citizens party has not appeared in the polls so far, similar to two other parties recently founded on the right.

The Slovak Civic Coalition SKOK! (the acronym translates as Jump! in English) elected Juraj Miškov chairman in late March. A former economy minister he was formerly affiliated with SaS. Miškov has financed all the campaigns of the party so far from his own pocket, TASR reported. Other SaS renegades, Martin Chren and Daniel Krajcer, have joined up.
Another party, Šanca (Chance) elected its founder Eva Babitzová, briefly a member of SDKÚ, as its chairwoman on March 30, TASR reported. Babitzová, a former director of Radio Expres, was commissioned to be at Šanca’s helm until the founding congress scheduled for June. MP Viliam Novotný (ex-SDKÚ), Hriňová mayor Stanislav Horník (also ex-SDKÚ) and tax expert Jarka Lukačovičová are currently vice-chairs.

Observers however see little room for the new centre-right parties on what is already a splintered scene. SKOK and Šanca cannot be considered strong players yet because they have not appeared in the polls so far, Mesežnikov noted, adding that “this is not a situation comparable to the one that arose after Sieť was founded”. 

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