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10th Jul 2020

Feature

How Slovakia's far-right might pull off an election victory

  • Cizitens in Slovakia demanding justice for murdered journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kusnirova (Photo: Peter Tkac)

A month before its general election on 29 February, Slovakia seems overwhelmed by fears that a wide-felt frustration over corruption - revealed as part of an investigation into the shocking murder of an investigative journalist in 2018 - could lead to a historic victory for far-right extremists.

The current court trial - covered in detail by all Slovak and several European media outlets - last week saw prominent oligarchs questioned about their contacts with the man accused of ordering the double killing.

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Investigative reporter Jan Kuciak, 27, and his fiancée Martina Kusnirova, also 27, were shot dead in their house in Velka Maca, in West Slovakia, on 21 February 2018, just two months before their planned wedding.

The murders sparked protests across the country and forced a major cabinet reshuffle, including the resignation of prime minister Robert Fico of the ruling social democrat Smer-SD party.

Days before his death, Kuciak was finalising an article for the Aktuality.sk website about top Smer-SD links with the Italian ´Ndrangheta mafia and their agriculture business - supported by generous EU farm subsidies in eastern Slovakia.

But, following an intensive investigation, the special police team eventually arrested a group of people accused of working for Marian Kocner, a local businessman reportedly tied to high-profile members of the ruling party, as well as police officials and judges, in September 2018.

Kocner´s mobile and searches of his house provided videos, audio recordings and messages which, when published, led to political uproar and general dismay over the state of Slovakia´s police and judiciary.

Political bombshell

Smer-SD, ruling Slovakia since 2006 (apart from the 2010-2012 period of centre-right coalition government of Iveta Radicova) suffered the most political damage, as their representatives played key roles in several scandals revealed by Kocner's private communications.

The current prime minister Peter Pellegrini, Fico's successor as the cabinet but not party leader, has attempted to portray himself as symbolising the 'new Smer-SD', and is running on the pre-election campaign slogan "Responsible Change".

And - despite the tensions between the two leaders and the negative media coverage - the party recently polled around 18 percent, which is a considerate drop on its performance in previous elections (28 percent in 2016, and 44 percent in 2012) but still in first place.

However, this pole-position could be overtaken by an unexpected competitor: the far-right extremist and anti-Europe, Popular Party of Our Slovakia (LSNS), led by Marian Kotleba, polling second on around 13 percent. The party first entered the national parliament in 2016, with eight percent of the vote.

"The trend of LSNS rise is strong and crystal-clear," Vaclav Hřích, the AKO agency director told EUobserver. "If support for Smer-SD continues to drop as it does with every new poll, they could eventually fall behind the far-right."

"Kuciak's murder and all the findings along its investigation have simply shocked the people. They say that they always knew all the politicians steal a bit. But this is just too much and it can only be tackled by the overhaul of the whole political system."

"For a growing part of the society this change should come from someone totally new, never before connected in any way with the current establishment, whether from coalition or opposition parties, whether on the right or left side of the political spectrum," Hřích argued.

"The mere fact that they are ´new´ and never actually took part in national government is for some supporters a sufficient reason to turn a blind eye to criminal records and racist or xenophobic statements of LSNS representatives."

Political newcomers

But there are also newcomers among some of the leading parties of the democratic opposition, which have also enjoyed a boost in popularity in the wake of the public protests following Kuciak's murder.

The Progressive Slovakia liberal party was helped by the impressive victory of Zuzana Caputova, its candidate in the 2019 presidential elections - but then somewhat failed to keep the momentum under its new leader Michal Truban, an IT specialist and political newbie.

Former president Andrej Kiska initially sparked hopes of unifying the anti-Smer-SD opposition - but then caused some disappointment when he decided to run his new For the People party (Za ludi) alone, and not as part of a broader coalition.

Both these parties now poll at around 10 percent, followed by three to four potential coalition partners in the new government, if they get enough votes at the 29 February elections.

Statistically, this very broad coalition is still the most likely post-election scenario, Hřích suggested.

All government and opposition party leaders passionately declare they would never join forces with the hard-right LSNS.

However, Smer-SD previously coordinated their votes in the parliament with the far-right MPs on issues not supported by their current coalition partners, mainly the centre-right Most-Hid party.

"The ruling coalition is only formed after the vote, never mind the pre-election rhetoric," commented Hřích, adding "The simple fact that there is a real chance of the far-right victory could yet prove a strong mobilisation factor for its opponents. But it is sad anyway what we have got into."

Author bio

Lucia Virostkova is a reporter at Slovak public TV, and worked previously at EUobserver.

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