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No Political Honeymoon in Slovakia

August 10, 2010 1 comment

In most countries, election winners enjoy a protracted period of public support immediately after taking office (the “post-election bandwagon effect”). Slovakia’s new government has had no such luck.

Former Prime Minister Robert Fico’s Smer party, which lost power in the June 12 general election with 34.8% of the vote, has seen its support jump to 42%, its highest level in 12 months, according to the most recent Focus Agency poll. Smer may be benefitting from an influx of support from former backers of Vladimir Meciar’s People’s Party – Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (LS-HZDS), which failed to win enough votes to make it into parliament last June. But this cannot explain why overall support for Smer and its former coalition partners (Smer, LS-HZDS, and the ultranationalist Slovak National Party (SNS)) has increased from 45% to 50% in the two months since Slovak voters ousted them.  

One could argue that this also represents a bandwagon effect – Smer, which won more votes than any other single party on June 12, is becoming more popular. What is not typical is that the four-party right-wing/liberal coalition that replaced Fico (the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ), the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) and Híd-Most) has been unable to gain momentum since taking power; their poll ratings have either stagnated or edged up just slightly. This means that if elections were held now, Fico and SNS leader Jan Slota would beset Prime Minister Iveta Radicova’s government 48% to 40%. The upcoming corruption investigations and search for “skeletons” can challenge Fico’s popularity, but it won’t weaken the strong pressure from the opposition. And, if some austerity measures will be implemented, the populist rhetorics of Smer can remain attractive. 

One possible reason is the coalition parties’ squabbling over the governing program. Practically every member of the coalition, especially the SaS, was forced to compromise; voters may believe the parties they voted for two months ago have abandoned the most attractive parts of their election manifestos. This has also led to internal strife within the parties; some SaS caucus members have even threatened to quit the coalition.

These figures indicate Radicova will have a tough time governing and that Fico may find his way back to power. There is absolutely no guarantee the new coalition will be able to complete its four-year parliamentary term, especially given its paper-thin parliamentary majority (79-71) and a tough opposition like Smer.

What makes the government work a bit easier, is that after the forthcoming local elections in November, a period of 3 years will begin without any elections at all. Preliminary elections in the SK political system are almost impossible (it needs a constitutional majority: 90 votes out of 150 in the parliament), so the government should focus on maintaining its thin parliamentary majority. As the Finance Minister is drafting ambitious austerity measures, the real test will be the vote over the 2011 budget.

Péter Krekó – Csaba Molnár