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Too much choice?

Looking back at elections past, some clear trends emerge: the average Slovak party survives about as long as a mayfly and comebacks are rare.

Still not sure who to vote for?(Source: Sme)

SLOVAKIA is a perfect democracy.

No, really.

The parliamentary elections on March 5 are designed to be perfectly proportional: everyone’s vote goes into a single, national ballot box. And almost every vote would count, were it not for the 5-percent threshold that each party must clear in order to win representation.

Unfortunately for most parties, that 5 percent is more of an aspiration than a threshold: all those now in parliament, bar the governing Smer party, have dipped dangerously close to (or well below) it in polling over the last year or two, and most of the 23 parties running in this election have never got anywhere near it.

Looking back at elections past, some clear trends emerge.

One is that the average Slovak party survives about as long as a mayfly. Of the 26 that ran in 2012, only 11 reappear (in one form or another) on this year’s ballot.

The most significant expiry since 2012 is the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), which dominated Slovak politics throughout the 1990s, and was part of the government until just six years ago. Few will mourn its passing.

Another lesson is that comebacks are rare indeed. The only party in modern times to get back into parliament after dropping out is the Slovak National Party (SNS), which returned in 2006 after a four-year absence. It looks set to do so again at this election – which would be a remarkable feat.

As well as the mayflies, there are one or two hardy perennials. The unreconstructed Communist Party of Slovakia (KSS) will gamely contest this election, as it has all the others – likely with similar results. For a party that once proclaimed ‘Česť práci!’ (Honour work!), a striking number of its candidates are retired.

Most parties are all well-educated. Smer’s candidates (average age: 50) boast enough doctorates between them to staff a hospital, while the upstart #Sieť party (yes, that hash sign really is part of its name – supposedly to show that it’s down with the kids) has a rather younger profile (average age: 39): at least one of its candidates (I should know: I teach him) is still studying for his first degree.

True to hallowed tradition, few of the parties are troubling voters with anything so vulgar as a coherent policy platform. Smer promises to ‘protect Slovakia’ – though from what is unspecified (presumably, ethnic pollutants such as yours truly). Even that is something of an improvement on its non-committal, albeit election-winning, 2012 assertion that ‘people deserve guarantees’ (of what, and from whom, were similarly undefined).

Still not sure who to vote for? Fortunately, help is at hand. Professor Kevin Deegan-Krause of Wayne State University, the doyen of Slovak electoral analysts, has developed the simple (and light-hearted) guide to assist undecided voters.

And one last tip: if you, like almost 0.1 percent of the electorate, somehow find yourself running for election, it might be an idea to actually turn up. In 2012, Marian Papp, a candidate for the Party of the Democratic Left (SDĽ), achieved the unique distinction of winning zero preferences – meaning that he did not even vote for himself.

With sincere thanks to Kevin Deegan-Krause for his valuable insights, and the diagram reproduced here. The opinions above are those of the author’s.

Topic: Election


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