The Slovak opposition’s defeat of Prime Minister Robert Fico in the June 12 elections may give the impression that there has been a significant shift of in the balance of political power. It is a false impression. Fico’s Smer party received a greater share of the vote than ever before. The incoming right-wing government will be fragile, and any conflicts between the coalition partners may send voters into Fico’s camp. Reports of a 180-degree turn in Slovak policy are thus greatly exaggerated.
The outgoing coalition – Smer, the Slovak National Party (SNS) and the People’s Party-Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (LS-HZDS) – took 44.2% on June 12, just 5.5% less than they won in 2006 (49.7%). Smer and the SNS can easily regain this percentage of voters, so it is far too early to talk about an irreversible anti-populist, market-friendly U-turn. Meanwhile, the LS-HZDS, led by onetime political heavyweight Vladmir Meciar, fell out of Parliament and will probably fade into obscurity. However, his voters will remain in the “nationalist” block and support the “neo-Meciarian” Fico, or the SNS. In addition, a far-right anti-Roma formation known as the People’s Party-Our Slovakia has joined the club of political contenders. They won just 1.3% on June 12, but this party has the potential to overtake the SNS to become Slovakia’s premier far-right group.
Híd-Most and Freedom and Solidarity (SaS), two brand-new parties, made it past the 5% threshold for parliamentary representation. But this can hardly be regarded as something unique in either Slovakia or the region. Slovakia’s party system has been in flux in the 17 years since Slovakia became independent. Smer emerged in 1999 after splitting from the Party of the Democratic Left (SDL) and soon reshuffled the balance of left-wing forces. The proportional-representation voting system makes it easy for new political formations to rise quickly – and fall equally quickly.
The four-party governing coalition will be quite fragile. It will include Híd-Most, whose roots are in the ethnic Hungarian community, inviting attacks from Slovak nationalists. The cabinet will also be divided along ideological lines: The Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) and the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) represent center-right/Christian-democratic politics, while the SaS and Híd-Most take a liberal line. The two sides will be in continuous confrontation with each other to avoid losing their political identities.
The new administration may therefore have a tough time sticking together. True, practically the same people cooperated with one another in the government of former Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda, and true, the four parties’ views on economic policy are similar. But the politicians are in different positions now than they were in 2006; for example, Richard Sulik will find that being chairman of the SaS is a lot different from being “just” an adviser to the finance minister.
Meanwhile, Smer has gained ground in practically every election since it was founded in 1999. Fico’s return to the opposition benches means he’s back in his element. If a governing politician makes a false move, Fico and his populist allies will pounce on it and mercilessly pummel the coalition (tit-for-tat accusations of corruption are somewhat of a hobby for Slovak politicians). The coalition will have 79 seats out of 150 in parliament, so its majority will evaporate if only four MPs defect. Fico’s room for political manoeuvre is getting broader. He can easily find his way back to the prime minister’s office.
Róbert László-Péter Krekó