Slovakia vote shocks Europe and its own society
Slovakia's election result has taken politicians and broad public by surprise. The party of prime minister Robert Fico came first in the vote on Saturday (5 March) but secured only a third of the seats in a parliament divided between nine parties.
An extreme-right party, The People's Party – Our Slovakia (LSNS) entered parliament for the first time, with 8.0 percent of the votes and 14 seats out of 150.
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The outcome sparked speculations on possible coalitions and their stability as well as a spontaneous initiative to hold anti-fascist protests in the capital Bratislava.
“We are obliged to translate these results into a sensible government. If we succeed, it will be a government of compromise,” said Fico, leader of the social-democratic Smer-SD party, in a post-election debate on Sunday.
Smer-SD won with 28.28 percent, 16 points ahead of the second party, the liberal Freedom and Solidarity (SaS). But its share fell dramatically compared with the 2012 election, when it got 44.4 percent and managed to form a one-party cabinet.
Despite a fragmented political scene this time, Fico maintained he could form a stable enough government again, “without experiments or weird coalitions”.
Commentators are sceptical about chances for a quick solution but several suggest that the looming EU presidency by Slovakia, starting in July, and the entry of LSNS in parliament will be the driving forces pushing for a deal.
“Any coalition, even among the strongest pre-election enemies, is possible under these circumstances,” Samuel Abraham of the Bratislava International School of Liberal Arts told EUobserver.
Saving the country's reputation
“Maybe not immediately so, but if the coalition-squabbling takes too long, politicians will come under pressure and it will become easier for them to say they had to make a sacrifice and join in some coalition to save the country’s reputation,” he added.
Fico is expected to be the first to be mandated by president Andrej Kiska to form a cabinet. Richard Sulik, the leader of the liberal SaS party, and a MEP from the eurosceptic ECR group, could be second to try a centre-right coalition without Smer-SD.
SaS featured as the unexpected frontrunner of the opposition parties with 12 percent of votes, along with conservative coalition OLaNO party (11 percent).
In contrast, three more mainstream centre-right parties did much worse than expected.
Siet (the Net), which was the centre-right opposition's main party, obtained 5.6 percent of the vote, and Most-Hid 6.5 percent. Both are seen as possible coalition partners of either Sulik or Fico, just like the nationalist Slovak National Party (SNS), which also obtained fewer votes (8.6 percent) than previously expected.
The Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) of former European commissioner Jan Figel dropped just below the 5 percent threshold and will be absent from parliament for the first time since the early 1990s.
Anti-EU and anti-Nato rhetoric
The LSNS leader, Marian Kotleba, who in the past has praised the pro-Nazi Slovak State and wore uniforms inspired from that regime, appeared isolated but no less ambitious on post-election TV debates.
“It’s the beginning of a new era for Slovakia. And as a result, we will save the country from where it was heading,” he said, arguing that previous governments had favoured the foreign interests to those of local people and that his party would eventually make it to the executive.
Anti-EU and anti-Nato rhetoric were the key elements of Kotleba’s campaign. He maintained that Europe was trying to gain control over member states’ economies via EU funds that were used in areas dictated by Brussels and under conditions favourable to foreign investors.
As the regional governor of the relatively poor region of Banska Bystrica, in central Slovakia, where he was elected in November 2013, Kotleba took concrete measures to block EU funds for some projects and facilities. He also supports Slovakia’s exit from the eurozone.
Another major part of his campaign included criticism of corruption in state institutions and “standard” political parties, plus a social benefits policy towards the Roma, referring to them as “Gypsy parasites”.
Finally, Kotleba has been a staunch critic of the EU’s migration policy and refugee quota.
His supporters came mainly from the poorest districts with high unemployment, which sociologists suggest the frustration played a key role. Another major camp of his voters included young people, even first-time voters who saw him as a radical anti-system leader.
While mainstream media generally ignored him, Kotleba managed to build an audience on social-media networks.
'Fascism will never win'
“We need to reflect upon our education system and find what we have done wrong,” political scientist Samuel Abraham said, suggesting the young Kotleba voters may not be aware of historic experience with fascism and extreme-right parties and their undemocratic character.
The poor condition of Slovakia’s education system was one of the key issues dominating the final months of the election's campaign. Teachers staged protests days before the poll, mainly on the squares of the Bratislava capital.
The momentum for reform of the education sector seems lost because of the uncertain election results. Now the squares will be used for protest against fascism.
“Our grandfathers who fought for our liberty are turning in their graves. We have come at an historic crossroads and we are fighting for our society’s character,” reads the invitation to a demonstration organised on Monday.
“Fascism will never win. We will not let that,” the text adds.