Czech politicians offer different interpretations of left-wing landslide in Slovakia

Robert Fico, leader of Slovakia's social democratic party SMER, photo: CTK

Voters in neighbouring Slovakia made a powerful statement at the weekend when they handed an overwhelming victory to the centre-left party SMER, which now has a strong enough mandate to form a single-party government. What that statement means though has been interpreted variously in the Czech Republic, where the current centre-right government has reached record lows in popularity. In the view of Foreign Minister and chairman of the TOP 09 Party Karel Schwarzenberg, the poll should be a lesson for the Czech government that corruption doesn’t pay, even amid positive right-wing policies. The Czech Social Democratic Party on the other hand was quick to interpret the election result as an indictment of failed policies that have often mirrored the reform measures passed and proposed in the Czech Republic. For an expert’s view on both those statements we turned to political scientist Jiří Pehe:

Robert Fico,  leader of Slovakia's social democratic party SMER,  photo: CTK
“I think the results of the Slovak elections reflected both of the trends we have heard about, that is, concerns over corruption in Slovakia that were so prominent in the so-called “Gorila” affair. And then of course there is also the politics of the right-of-centre government. I think many Slovaks didn’t actually vote only on the basis of their corruption fears, because that would not explain why they votes for SMER, which was also implicated in parts of the Gorila the affair.”

The outgoing government was a right-wing coalition as in the Czech Republic; were there policies being implemented in Slovakia that were similar to unpopular reforms being pushed here?

“Absolutely, I think the right-of-centre government in Slovakia pursued pretty much the same, or very similar policies as the Czech government is pursuing right now – though I would argue that the Slovak government was much more diplomatic in communicating with the public and more skilful in introducing its reforms. Nevertheless it was basically entirely swept away in the elections, which shows that people do not think that cuts and austerity measures are the only way to solve the problems that we see in the current economic crisis.”

Bohuslav Sobotka
Bohuslav Sobotka, the chairman of the Czech Social Democratic Party, suggested that Prime Minister Nečas make thorough study of the situation in Slovakia, do you think he will? Or rather, do you think the government finds the election result in Slovakia at all frightening?

“Well I think the Czech government should find the results of the election in Slovakia frightening, simply because there are lessons for Czech politics, in my opinion. It seems to me that if a right-of-centre government wants to introduce reforms that put emphasis on cuts and austerity measures, it also needs to develop at least some sense of social coherence or some social policies that give people hope that they will not be left behind, and that these – sometimes perceived as mindless – cuts will not plunge too many people into poverty. And I think this is what the Czech government has not been capable of doing, and the Slovak government had similar problems. And in that respect I think that the Czech government should learn a lesson from Slovakia.

Petr Nečas,  photo: CTK
“Another problem that faces the Czech government is corruption, and in that sense it is also similar to Slovakia, because the main argument of opponents of cuts and austerity measures in both countries has been that people would accept government reforms more openly and with more enthusiasm if they knew that hundreds of millions of crowns were not being lost in various corruption schemes at the same time. And neither government has had much success fighting corruption and I think what we’ve seen in Slovakia is the result. And the Czech Republic may expect something very similar.”