Saturday

6th Mar 2021

'Fragmented' Slovakia votes amid corruption woes

  • The muder of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak, and his finacee Martina Kusnirova, deeply shook the central European country (Photo: Peter Tkac)

Almost exactly two years after the murder of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak, and his fiancee Martina Kusnirova, that shocked the country, voters in Slovakia go to the polls this Saturday (29 February) to decide on the way forward.

The killings sparked street protests and forced the resignation of prime minister Robert Fico of the ruling social democrat Smer party. Smer has since seen its support drop in polls to around 17 percent - but it still remains in pole position.

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The widespread corruption that has gripped the state - uncovered by Kuciak and in subsequent investigations - which found links between high-profile Smer politicians, the Italian mafia, local businessmen, police officials and judges, has shaken voters' trust in the political establishment in the country of 5.5 million people.

That political upheaval carried Zuzana Caputova, a 45-year-old political activist and lawyer from the liberal Progressive Slovakia (PS) to the presidency last year.

But it has also opened up the political space to the far-right party Kotlebists – People's Party Our Slovakia, which could enter the 150-member parliament as the second or third largest party, according to polls.

"The political landscape is more fragmented than ever before," Milan Nic of the German Council on Foreign Relations told EUobserver.

"The stakes are high," he added, "The elections will decide how the political demands from the protests can be implemented in a more comprehensive way".

Nic said that for Slovakia to move forward, voters will have to remove Smer, which has been ruling the country for over a decade.

However, Fico, who remained party leader, is showing no signs of regret.

As Slovaks remembered the murdered journalist and his fiancee on the 21 February anniversary, he said: "If it weren't for the murder, I would be standing here in front of you today as prime minister with 30-percent support."

In a desperate attempt to appeal to voters, Fico recalled the parliament (already in recess) to pass - with the help of the nationalist SNS, and some lawmakers from far-right LSNS - a law giving a 13th-month pension, to be paid by the end of 2020, at a cost of €400m from the state budget.

"At this point, it is about who will go to prison and who will not," Nic said of the stakes for Smer, describing the vote as an "end of an era" in terms of the party's rule over the country.

In opposition, Smer might turn further to the right, Nic predicts, with an increasingly illiberal agenda and cooperation with far-right LSNS.

Smer prime minister Peter Pellegrini, who has been campaigning under the slogan "Responsible Change", has not managed to turn around the party's image.

'Not gone crazy'

The elections are likely to produce the most fragmented parliament ever. While the PS is running in alliance with another liberal party, the opposition centrist parties have not formed a single block.

The 'dark horse' has also emerged, in the form of the 46-year-old Igor Matovic, an unpredictable populist leader of the anti-corruption movement Ordinary People and Independent Personalities (OLANO), who could lead the next government.

"In this atmosphere, I feel it on the streets, people in Slovakia have risen up to say that is enough," Matovic told Reuters.

He also emphasised Slovakia's uniqueness, compared with other Visegrad countries, such as Poland and Hungary, where right-wing governments frequently clash with the EU.

"We want to show in this election that central Europe has not gone crazy," Matovic told Reuters.

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