Slovaks have approached the polls on February 29th 2020 and decided on a new direction of their country. Surveys predicted that the leading social democratic left-wing party Smer-SD (Direction-Social Democracy) might lose Parliamentary elections for the first time in 14 years. However, nobody expected such a turn. The centre-right opposition party OLaNO (Ordinary People) claims victory with 25% support. Igor Matovič, a leader of the winning party, embodies the change people demanded.
The party has been represented in the National Council since 2010 and has relied upon its leader, a charismatic businessperson and genius of political marketing. With his rhetoric skills and unusual stunts, he built a name for himself and set out to fight corruption. But he reserved most of his ‘creativity’ for Robert Fico, the former PM and chairman of Smer-SD. His campaign was eye-catching – in one of the videos, he filmed himself on French Riviera in front of a villa belonging to Fico, putting on a poster saying ‘Property of Slovak Republic’.
Slovakia After Ján Kuciak’s Murder
Smer-SD was steadily losing support after the murder of investigative journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée in February 2018. The young journalist investigated misuse of EU funds, tax fraud and alleged connections between government officials and the Italian mafia. This brutal murder woke up Slovakia and led to the biggest anti-government protests since the end of communism. It can be perceived as a turning point in Slovak history as it exposed the interconnection of the highest political figures with the mafia. Then-PM Fico was forced to resign, he was replaced by Peter Pellegrini, although the party stayed in power. This situation also led to the election of anti-corruption activist Zuzana Čaputová as president.
Elections Results in Details
OLaNO had led the campaign on an anti-corruption platform and reached 25% of votes, even though, in January the Matovič’s party was polling at 8%. Pre-election surveys estimated between 13% and 15% and therefore, the results were overwhelming. Smer-SD came in second with 18%, and it has confirmed that doubling child allowance and the thirteen pensions were not enough to persuade voters. However, what is even more concerning for Fico, his two coalition partners, the ultranationalist Slovak National Party and ethic Hungarian MOST-HID, failed to hit 5% threshold to enter parliament. Hence, for the first time since 1989, the Hungarian minority which is reaching 8.5% of the nation, will not be represented in parliament. It could lead to less attention to minority policies not only for Hungarians but also for other minorities whose interests are represented by MOST-HID. Also, the party has much to do with economic and social opportunities in the southern regions, inhabited by Hungarians, which are the poorest in the country. However, this situation will be favourable for Victor Orban who pours state money in projects of Hungarian minorities and can further consolidate relations between Fidesz and other Hungarian parties in Slovakia.
The elections have also symbolized a ‘great liberal hope’ in the form of a coalition Progressive Slovakia/Together. The coalition was expected to follow the success of EU Parliament elections where it dominated and more importantly, of presidential elections where Čaputová won. However, they failed to gain 7% threshold to enter parliament as a coalition.
The question of neo-fascist parties presented a threat before elections as opinion polls suggested big gains, some surveys even talked about victory. People’s Party Our Slovakia, known as Kotlebovci after its leader Marian Kotleba, is a classic example of extremist, far-right party. Despite neo-Nazi connections, more Slovaks find this party appealing and see it as the only option against the country’s political establishment. Kotleba attracts rural, less educated and frustrated Slovaks who feel like not being represented by the ruling parties. Following the results, Kotlebovci reached 8% of votes and so elections have managed to thwart the rise of far-right extremism in Slovakia.
Which Parties Will Form the New Government?
As expected, Matovič was assigned to form the new government. He immediately excluded negotiating with Smer-SD and Kotlebovci. Generally speaking, OLaNO’s agenda aims at enhancing public transparency as well as reforms of the judiciary and public procurement. Furthermore, the party wants to address regional disparities and to improve health care.
The most natural coalition partners are the libertarian Freedom and Solidarity, the centrist For the People led by former president Andrej Kiska and the conservative and nationalist We Are Family. Taken together, they would have 95 seats so five more than required for a constitutional majority. The new government could bring a strong voice to the Roma minority as there are two Roma MPs.
The coalition seems to be more homogenous than expected. In the absence of Progressive Slovakia/Together, it is rather conservative leaning. We should bear in mind that Slovakia is a Christian country where for instance, civil partnerships are still not allowed. And so, the strong position of Christian-conservatives will not support the liberalisation of society. On the contrary, we can expect them to push for a stricter reproduction law or promote stands against sexual minorities and multiculturalism. All depends on the agreement between the partners and Matovič already declared to allow ‘free votes’ on cultural-ethical questions within the coalition.
From a regional perspective, this development is promising for further development of the Visegrad Group. Along with right-wing governments in Poland and Hungary, V4 can consolidate their approach in term of migration policies or federalization efforts coming from Brussels.