Social Democrats win across the border in Slovakia

Robert Fico, photo: CTK

Just two weeks after elections here in the Czech Republic, neighboring Slovaks went to the polls this past Saturday. From a comparative perspective, there are several interesting highlights: for one, the Communist Party in Slovakia won only 3.8% of the vote, not enough to make it into parliament. And while voter turn-out in the Czech Republic was surprisingly high at 64%, Slovakia saw a historically low election turn-out of 54%. Yet, as analysts predicted, the Social Democratic SMER Party led by Robert Fico won the Slovak elections with 29% of the vote. In fact, Mr. Fico's SMER won in every Slovak region except for the capital city, Bratislava, and the two southern regions of Nitra and Trnava where Bela Bugar's Hungarian Coalition Party earned a majority. Rob Cameron is in Bratislava, and explains what will happen now.

Robert Fico, photo: CTK
"What happens now is that the President of Slovakia, Ivan Gasparovic, asks Mr. Fico as the winner of the elections, to try and form a new government. That is about all we know at the moment because those talks on forming a coalition will be very complicated since Mr. Fico has very few options open to him. He can either try to woo some of Mr. Dzurinda's present coalition allies on the right, but they of course don't share his left-wing agenda. Or he can turn to two very controversial parties, the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (led by the former authoritarian Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar), or the far-right nationalists under Jan Slota. Obviously, that kind of coalition would be extremely controversial and would probably be met with some dismay abroad."

Jiri Paroubek, the Czech Social Democratic leader, was quick to comment that if he were in Robert Fico's shoes, he would work to build a grand coalition with Mikulas Dzurinda. Is this feasible?

Mikulas Dzurinda, photo: CTK
"I would say that's probably the least likely option on the table. It is far more likely that Mr. Fico will attempt to lure one of Mr. Dzurinda's present coalition allies, and perhaps Mr. Meciar's party—maybe without Mr. Meciar—into some kind of coalition. If that fails, Mr. Dzurinda would have a chance to try and form a government, in which case he would stick with his present coalition allies, plus Mr. Meciar's party, again possibly without Vladimir Meciar."

What about Vladimir Meciar? International audiences were of course waiting to see what his result would be. The elections brought Mr. Meciar's worst result ever—he lost 360 000 votes compared to 2002. What happened to his loyal followers?

Robert Fico and Vladimir Meciar, photo: CTK
"Well, many of his loyal followers have deserted him over the last few years. That is partly because people like Mr. Fico of SMER, whom many accuse of being a populist—an accusation he denies, of course—have simply stolen Mr. Meciar's thunder. Indeed Mr. Meciar has also warmed-up to right-wing parties in recent years, and that has put off a lot of his traditionally left-wing, center-left voters. A lot of people have been confused by Mr. Meciar's conciliatory tone towards the right-wing, and I think that many people simply didn't know who they were voting for any more. Incidentally, this is the first time in the past three elections that Mr. Meciar has not won; he won the previous two elections but of course was not able to form a government. Now he has lost and done very badly indeed."

What about the Communist Party in Slovakia?

Jiri Paroubek and Robert Fico, photo: CTK
"They failed to get into parliament, as was widely predicted. Again, this is because parties such as SMER (Robert Fico's left-wing party) and Mr. Meciar's party have stolen their thunder. These parties have been very, very successful in attracting many votes which would naturally go to the communists."

How do you predict coalition-building efforts to proceed?

"It's very difficult to say. I was taken to task, let's say, by quite a few Slovak friends who said that we really should not count Mr. Dzurinda out. He is central Europe's longest serving prime minister, and he is described I think by the Financial Times as 'a kind of Machiavelli of politics' here. He is a survivor—a political survivor—and I think it is quite likely that we haven't heard the last of Mr. Dzurinda yet. Watch out for him, I think."i