Slovaks echo Czechs as left score hollow victory, but right head for power

Robert Fico, photo: CTK

The wind of change has been blowing across Central Europe this spring, with elections in Austria, Hungary, the Czech Republic and most recently Slovakia significantly altering the political landscape. Commentators have been struck by the parallels between the latter two elections, especially the apparent failure of the countries’ two Social Democratic parties to form a government despite winning the most votes. But do the parallels end there?

There were wild scenes at the headquarters of the opposition Slovak Democratic and Christian Union on Saturday as the exit polls were released. The party didn’t win these elections - what they were celebrating was the overall victory of the centre-right: with 79 out of 150 seats in parliament, they’ll have enough to form a new pro-reform government.

Robert Fico,  photo: CTK
There was a different picture over at the headquarters of Prime Minister Robert Fico’s SMER-Social Democracy party. He won 35% of the vote, and has been given the first go at putting together a new coalition. But with just one potential ally in parliament – the ultra-nationalist Slovak National Party – forming a majority government appears impossible.

Striking parallels then with the Czech election two weeks ago. Here too the Social Democrats emerged as the largest party, here too party leader Jiří Paroubek found himself with few allies and far short of a majority, and here too it’s a cluster of centre-right parties who are likely to form the next government instead. But do the parallels end there? Beata Balogová is the editor-in-chief of the English-language Slovak Spectator newspaper.

“There are a couple of parallels. One of the parallels is that in a way, as Paroubek in the Czech Republic, Fico in Slovakia has been popular, and they were confident politicians. What is also similar is that two new parties made it into parliament, and they made it despite predictions that their fate is uncertain. They assumed that Czech and Slovak voters might be more conservative and less trusting towards new political parties.”

Jiří Paroubek
Beata Balogová however points out that the biggest difference between the two elections is that in Slovakia Mr Fico was the incumbent, contesting the elections after a fairly successful first term. Across the border in the Czech Republic, there was no incumbent, just a caretaker government.

One similarity remains however – the time it will take to form a new coalition. In Slovakia, Mr Fico has been given 10 days to carry out the seemingly hopeless task of forming a government, and only afterwards will the centre-right parties get their chance, meaning a new government will be created at the very earliest at the end of June. In the Czech Republic, the earliest date being mooted is July 7th – more than five weeks after the elections.