February 3, 2020

SLOVAKIA: OLaNO’s victory will bring a center-right coalition government

BY Andrius Tursa

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( 3 mins)

Following a convincing victory in the 29 February general elections, the center-right Ordinary People (OLaNO) party will likely form a wide four-party coalition government that will hold a majority in parliament.
The new government – likely led by the OLaNO chairman Igor Matovic – is expected to prioritize anti-corruption reforms, adopt a conservative stance on public finances and social issues, and maintain a pro-European and pro-NATO foreign policy course.
Key risks to stability include potential disagreements among the relatively diverse coalition parties, lack of cohesion within OLaNO itself, and the sometimes unpredictable character of Matovic.
The opposition center-right OLaNO received 25% of votes, leaving the ruling SMER-Social Democracy (SMER) second with 18.2%. The populist We are Family (Sme Rodina) came in third with 8.2% ahead of the far-right People’s Party – Our Slovakia (LSNS) with 7.9%. The last two parties winning seats in Slovakia’s unicameral parliament include the Eurosceptic Freedom and Solidary (SaS) with 6.2% and the centrist For the People (ZL) with 5.7%.

The results reflect the widespread public disappointment in the ruling SMER and its coalition partners for slow progress in tackling high-profile corruption. After eight years in power, SMER has received the lowest number of votes since 2002, while its coalition partners Slovak National Party and the interethnic Most-Hid failed to enter parliament.

President Zuzana Caputova (independent) is now expected to nominate Matovic as prime minister-designate, who will then have 30 days to present the composition of the cabinet and its governing program for parliament’s approval by an absolute majority (76/150 votes). Matovic has already signaled his readiness to start talks with all parliamentary parties except the center-left SMER and the nationalist LSNS. While OLaNO could form a majority coalition government by partnering with any two parliamentary parties, it will likely attempt to forge a wide four-party coalition cabinet, including the SaS, Sme Rodina and ZL. In such a case, the Matovic cabinet would hold a majority of 95 deputies in a 150-seat parliament. However, diverse priorities and political positions among the potential partners may prolong the coalition talks.

In general terms, the OLaNO-led government is expected to focus on tackling corruption, which was the party’s main electoral pledge. This may entail judicial reform, changes in the law enforcement agencies and the country’s criminal code, as well as new high-profile anti-corruption investigations. The Matovic cabinet will likely pursue a conservative fiscal policy, although ambitions in this area could be partly compromised by social spending pressures, especially if Sme Rodina enters the government. In terms of foreign policy, Slovakia would maintain its pro-EU and pro-NATO orientation and focus on fostering relations with the neighboring Visegrad countries, as well as with the major European economies.

Despite a relatively strong position in parliament and a fragmented opposition, the ability of the Matovic cabinet to hold together will likely be put to test by OlaNO’s inexperience. The party has never held power, and its leadership has not held top-level government positions, while its electoral list featured multiple independent candidates. As a result, internal party cohesion as well as OLaNO’s relations with its potential coalition partners are important signposts to watch. Also, Matovic is known for his eccentric and unpredictable character, which may generate some friction inside the cabinet.

The current allocation of seats in parliament, however, leaves very few alternatives to the OLaNO-led government. The opposition SMER party is unlikely to cooperate with the far-right LSNS and the other center-right parties in the legislature. Should for any reason OLaNO fail to reach a coalition agreement or its cabinet collapse later in the term, early elections would be the most likely outcome.

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