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Slovakia’s elections: Fico’s big return

Published on March 12, 2012 by: in: Politics

On Saturday March 10, 2012 Smer (Social Democrats) won parliamentary elections in Slovakia receiving 44.41% of votes. It means that former Prime Minister Robert Fico is coming back to power, far more powerful than in the year 2006.

The Slovak Spectator published today official results, confirmed by the Central Electoral Commission (ÚVK). Smer’s 44.41% means 83 seats in the Parliament (out of 150 altogether), the Christian Democrats (KDH) received 8.82% of votes, new party on Slovak political stage the Ordinary People and Independent Personalities (OL’aNO) – 8.55%, Hungarian Most-Hid – 6.89%, the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) – 6.09% and liberal Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) – 5.88%. As a result of the elections Ján Slota’s controversial Slovak National Party (SNS) and Hungarian SMK will not be in Parliament this term (they received 4.55% and 4.28% respectively).

photo: quinet

photo: quinet

As The Economist notices it is the first time in post-communist Slovakia that one party gained parliamentary majority and if Smer got just 7 more seats in the Parliament it would have had three-fifths majority, which is required for amending the Constitution. How come that Robert Fico, Prime Minister in the years 2006-2010, unable to set up a government in 2010 because of lack of coalition partners, returned in such a style?

Fico’s return

First of all it has to be underlined that Fico has never stopped being popular. Even in the elections of 2010, just after big scandal broke out (media revealed tapes on which somebody speaking in a voice very similar to Robert Fico is talking about frauds), Smer remained the most powerful party in the Parliament. The problem boiled down to the lack of coalition partners – Slota’s SNS was too weak and Mečiar’s HZDS did not make it to the Parliament at all. As a result leader of the party which came second in the elections – SDKU-DS – Iveta Radičová was asked to form a government. She managed to do so setting up a coalition of four centre-right opposition parties – liberal SaS, Christian Democratic KDH, Hungarian Most-Hid and SDKU-DS. This vivid coalition gathered 79 our of 150 seats (Smer will have 83 this term on its own). The coalition right from the beginning presented itself as a divided group of political parties, each with its own interests. No wonder that it was difficult to reach agreement on any vital issue with liberals and Christian Democrats in the same coalition. The last straw came with voting on the reform of EFSF (European Financial Stability Fund), when one of the partners SaS voted against the rest of the coalition. SaS used the argument that Slovakia, as the poorest country in the Eurozone cannot afford increasing its contribution to EFSF. This situation was very skillfully used by Robert Fico, who promised to vote in favour of the reform of EFSF in exchange for earlier elections. Radičová, left without any other choice, had to accept his conditions. As a result Slovakia accepted EFSF’s reform (as the last country in the Eurozone) and elections were scheduled for March. Fico counted that his party will gain more votes than in the 2010 elections which would let him come back to power. Saturday proved him right.

Secondly and probably most importantly so-called Gorilla scandal broke out in December 2011. Documents suggesting bribery in relation to privatization deals during Mikuláš Dzurinda’s government’s term were leaked to the media. This information seriously undermined any trust towards the Slovak ruling coalition (in which Dzurinda himself served as the Minister), especially because Radičová’s government made fight against corruption one of its main political aims. Gorilla scandal outraged Slovaks, who rushed to the streets demonstrating against dirty politics – while Europe was manifesting against ACTA, Slovaks were throwing bananas at the Parliament. Apart from decreasing support for the government, the Gorilla scandal led to setting up a new party – Ordinary People and Independent Personalities (OL’aNO) which separated from liberal SaS, counting on support from disillusioned Slovaks.

Thirdly, Smer gained much on a skillful populist rhetoric concerning economy. Slovakia fighting against a crisis and increasing unemployment turned out to be a good ground for populists – Fico talked moderately about financial stability and importance of the euro and at the same time assured Slovaks of the need for welfare state and opposed privatization, higher taxes, including 19% flat tax, introduced by Dzurinda’s government. It turned out that Slovaks are tired with economic reforms which do not bring any visible results and bought slogans about welfare state presented by Smer.

Fico in 2006 different from Fico in 2012

It is difficult to assess Radičová’s government’s performance, given that they ruled for less than 1,5 year. What was different from Fico’s government in 2006-2010 was the fact that her rules were far calmer. Relations with Hungarians improved, government opted for pro-European policy. Everything to no avail if the coalition cannot agree on vital issues and therefore no reforms are possible to carry out. What we can expect from Robert Fico’s second term? Quoting The Economist, Fico in his victory speech underlined openness to partnership with other political parties, pro-European stand and  need to “bring together political opposition, trade unions, businesses and civil-society groups to discuss planned reforms”. If these promises worked, Slovakia would deal with very different Robert Fico than the one from the year 2006. Truth is that at that time Smer had to share power with ultra-nationalist SNS and HZDS, both of which seriously influenced perception of the Slovak government  in Slovakia and abroad. There is hope then that Fico ruling on his own will be more moderate and more realistic about realization of his populist slogans.

It remains to be seen how this radical change in Slovak politics will influence relations with Hungary, which was one of the biggest problem during the first term of Fico’s government. Given that Hungary since 2010 has been ruled by nationalist and populist Viktor Orbán it raises concerns as to the future of Hungarian-Slovak relations. It is worth noticing that when Slovakia was ruled by nationalist coalition, Hungary was governed by more liberal socialists, when, on the other hand, Viktor Orbán came to power in Budapest and started his rules with introducing new law about double citizenship for Slovak Hungarians, it was mitigated by more consensual Radičová’s government. Now Slovakia and Hungary will be both governed by nationalist parties, dominating political stage. Curiously, there are some similarities between Viktor Orbán and Robert Fico. Obviously one comes from right-wing conservative background while another one is a populist socialist, but both their rhetoric and the way they came to power (corruption scandal making previously ruling party extremely unpopular, economic crisis, strong personalities of the leaders) bear clear similarities.

Robert Fico won the elections under the slogan “People deserve certainties”. The certain thing is that he managed to convince vast majority of Slovaks and that his political game leading to calling early elections paid off. It is not certain though what image of Robert Fico we will see in the year 2012 and how it will influence Central European political stage.

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