“A bag of potatoes” is how Prime Minister Robert Fico of Smer described the first round regional election results in Banská Bystrica Region in 2013, when some democratic candidates failed to defeat extremist Marian Kotleba. He advanced to the second round and later beat his Smer rival, Vladimír Maňka.
The eyes of Slovakia will be on Banská Bystrica this autumn again, political analysts agree. Kotleba is running for re-election and so far, democratic candidates have failed to agree on a single person who would have the biggest chances of defeating the incumbent. The situation will be complicated by the fact that there will be only one round to choose the new governor.
Despite the fierce debate about the results, the regional elections are not popular. The turnout oscillates around 20 percent and people often do not understand the meaning of self-governing regions and their chairs.
“Most voters cannot read the candidates’ programmes and compare them,” Daniel Klimovský from the Comenius University’s Department of Political Science explained to The Slovak Spectator.
As a result, the final decision of voters is often impacted by intuition, favours emerging from the verbal and non-verbal communication of the candidates, their own experience with them and their political alignment, he added.
Some results predicted
The candidates for the regional governor function and for the posts in the regional parliaments had to submit their slates by September 5. There is no official list yet since the self-governing regions’ election committees had to check the information of all submitted slates and decide on their registration by September 20.
The Interior Ministry will receive the official list of candidates only on September 30, Michaela Paulenová from the ministry’s press department told The Slovak Spectator.
But some names of the regional governor candidates are already known. Thus it can be expected that the most interesting battles will take place in Bratislava and Banská Bystrica Regions.
“This is proven by the opinion polls and the specific situation in the self-governing regions,” Michal Cirner, a political analyst from the Prešov University’s Faculty of Arts, told The Slovak Spectator.
Bratislava voters are very demanding, critical and dissatisfied, according to Cirner. The current offer of candidates for the governor’s post is highly varied. There is no clear favourite, says Klimovský.
In Banská Bystrica, the incumbent, Kotleba, will run for re-election. There is a group of democratic candidates who have promised to give up their candidacies if the pre-election polls show the dominance of a single person. So far they have failed to unite and agree on carrying out the joint survey, though.
Fierce competition may also occur in Nitra Region, where it will depend on how the incumbent Milan Belica will defend his actions and influence undecided voters, Klimovský opines.
It will also be interesting to watch the elections in Košice Region since the current regional governor Zdenko Trebuľa is not running. But observers expect the post will go to current Košice Mayor and Trebuľa’s colleague from the Smer party, Richard Raši.
On the other hand, there will be nearly zero competition in the regions where incumbents are running for re-election, observers agree. This is mostly the case of the regions of Prešov (Peter Chudík), Žilina (Juraj Blanár), Trenčín (Jaroslav Baška) and Trnava (Tibor Mikuš).
In most of them, candidates are supported by the ruling Smer party. In the case of Žilina and Trenčín, where the opposition nominated female candidates, the previous elections showed that women are not accepted as leaders, Klimovský said.
Election rules change
But the elections may bring some surprises, observers agree, pointing mostly to the change in election rules. Instead of two rounds, the voters will choose the new regional governor in only one round.
“A one-round election may bring surprises, particularly when there will be many candidates and the votes will be split up,” Cirner said.
This is why the competition in some regions will be tighter than in 2013, opines Linda Babušík Adamčíková, a political analyst from The Faculty of Arts of Pavol Jozef Šafárik University in Košice.
Moreover, the term of the regional governors will be prolonged from four to five years, in order to unite the dates for holding the regional and municipal elections on one day in 2022. After this election, the term will be cut back down to four years.
The main objection of this change is to increase the low turnout. In 2013, only 20.11 percent of legitimate voters cast their ballot.
However, voters often do not completely understand the role and powers of the regional governor and other bodies, observers agree. The problem emerged when the self-governing regions were established in 2001.
“As a result, candidates don’t have to limit their publicity only to topics related to the powers and finances of the self-governing regions,” Klimovský said.
It then happens that the candidates for the posts in the regional bodies often make promises whose fulfilment is in the power of the municipality or the state, Babušík Adamčíková said.
Moreover, voters often do not know what problems to talk about with regional governors.
“They often think that the regional governor can only lobby for their region and deal with problems concerning EU funds,” Cirner said.
Importance of personal meetings
When Kotleba surprisingly became the governor in 2013, several media outlets reported that it was partly the result of him meeting the voters living in small villages who do not often see politicians asking them about their problems in person.
Klimovský admits that voters are more disciplined in the countryside. As a result, many candidates for the posts of regional governors or regional deputies attend various events, meeting with voters in person.
“In my opinion, these meetings don’t have a significant impact on voters’ decisions though,” he added.
The meetings are important mostly for older generations, says Cirner. Younger voters mostly use the information they find on the internet or social networks.
“Generally speaking, most voters don’t attend the meetings or other events and decide at home a few days before the elections, based on information from the media, leaflets, election programmes and, most of all, their favours and antipathies,” Cirner said.
Babušík Adamčíková has a different opinion, claiming that the meetings with candidates are important for the voters. The increasing number of candidates also uses the internet to communicate with voters and answer questions.
“On the other hand, voters have a negative view of candidates in the streets only shortly before elections or see them only on posters and billboards,” she told The Slovak Spectator.