Thursday

26th Jan 2023

Slovakia kicks out centre-left rulers

  • Jan Kuciak and his fiancee were shot dead in 2018 (Photo: Peter Tkac)

Slovak people have ejected their old government in a vote marked by the murder of a journalist in 2018.

The centre-right Ordinary People party of Igor Matovic came first in Saturday's [29 February] election, winning 53 out of 150 seats in parliament.

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It beat the centre-left Smer, which had held power for more than a decade, into second place with 38 seats.

Matovic, a 46-year old MP, swept to victory from relative obscurity by hammering Smer on the murders of Slovak journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancee Martina Kusnirova two years ago.

They were killed while Kuciak was investigating Smer-era corruption, causing national and Europe-wide shock.

And it took their deaths for Slovakia to "wake up", Matovic said again after Saturday's results came out.

"We've sent a positive signal to Europe - that Slovakia isn't some corrupt country where journalists [are killed]," he said.

He would form "the best government Slovakia has ever had", he promised.

Slovaks would once again "breathe hope" and "rule of law will apply to all," he said.

Matovic is expected to forge a coalition with the centrist Za Ľudí (which won 12 seats on Saturday) and the libertarian SaS (13 seats) parties.

Almost two-thirds of Slovak voters turned out to give him a mandate.

And Smer's defeat was the second vote marked by the Kuciak killings, after Slovaks also elected anti-corruption lawyer Zuzana Čaputová as president last year.

But the upcoming coalition talks might be difficult despite the wind of change.

Za Ľudí holds socially conservative views, while SaS wants to legalise same-sex marriage and marijuana.

Matovic might need the support of the far-right Sme Rodina party, which won 17 seats on Saturday and which verbally bashes LGBTI people, to have a stable majority.

And his own style has also attracted criticism.

He attacked the Smer "mafia" in his campaign slogans and he called on voters to "cut off the last head of the Hydra of corruption" as he cast his ballot on Saturday.

Virtuous populism?

"Matovic is a textbook populist," Pavol Hardos, from Comenius University in Bratislava, told the Bloomberg news agency.

"He's the loudest and he's been doing it for longest. He won because he's become the most authentic voice of anger and frustration," Hardos said.

"He has good marketing, but we will be interested in how he will handle his office," Peter Pellegrini, the outgoing Smer prime minister, also said.

Meanwhile, if "anger and frustration" have a new place in Slovak politics, there will be no shortage of nasty rhetoric in its parliament for the next four years.

The openly fascist L'SNS party did not do as well as it had polled, prompting Czech president Milos Zeman to remark that he was happy that "the [Slovak] elections were not won by extremists".

But L'SNS still won 17 seats - making it the joint third largest party alongside the far-right Sme Rodina in the Slovak lower house.

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