February 26, 2020

SLOVAKIA: Election will bring more political fragmentation and volatility

BY Malte Liewerscheidt

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( 3 mins)

The general elections taking place this Saturday, 29 February, will see a close fight between the ruling SMER-Social Democracy (SMER) party and the opposition Ordinary People (OLaNO) party. Regardless of the winner, SMER’s position in parliament will be significantly weakened, thus limiting its chances of forming a new coalition government in a highly fragmented legislature. As a result, a wide coalition cabinet led by OLaNO is the most likely outcome. Government formation will take time, however, and any new cabinet will entail multiple ideologically-diverse parties and is unlikely to last the full term.

Yesterday, 25 February, the SMER-led coalition government approved the 13th pension payment to seniors. The ruling parties are also seeking to double child benefits and cancel highway tolls in a bid to secure greater voter support ahead of the elections. Despite these efforts, however, ruling parties face an uphill battle to stay in power.

A tight race

Slovakia has a unicameral parliament, where 150 MPs are elected for a four-year term under a proportional system in a single constituency with a 5% threshold for parties. According to the latest opinion polls, the ruling SMER remains in the lead with 17-18%, which would give the party 30-33 mandates. However, OLaNO has been rapidly closing in and now polls around 13-16%, giving it 24-27 seats. Considering the positive momentum behind OLaNO and the small gap with the leading SMER, the center-right party could emerge as the winner of the vote.

Beyond the two leaders, the far-right People’s Party – Our Slovakia (LSNS) maintains a stable support base of 10-12% and could take 18-21 mandates. Two newcomers – an alliance of Progressive Slovakia-Together (PS-SPOLU) and For the People (Za Ludi) – could receive both around 9-10%, which would result in 16-19 mandates for each. The populist We are Family (Sme Rodina) could get around 7% taking 12 seats. Several smaller parties including the right-wing Slovak National Party (SNS), center-right Freedom and Solidarity (SaS), conservative Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), inter-ethnic Most-Hid and the center-left Good Choice (DV) could also enter parliament.

President Zuzana Caputova (independent, associated with PS) can nominate a prime minister of her choice, but it is customary for the winning party to obtain the mandate. Forming the next government will be a difficult task for SMER as it might lose around one-third of seats, and it is uncertain whether the other two parties of the current ruling coalition – SNS and Most-Hid – will pass the 5% threshold. As a result, SMER might have to seek support from KDH, SME Rodina, or even the far-right LSNS. However, any new cabinet that includes far-right politicians or it is supported by the far right is unlikely to win parliament’s approval.

Consequently, OLaNO has greater chances of leading the next government. The party is expected to seek an alliance with PS-SPOLU and Za Liudi, and could also invite the Eurosceptic SaS, the conservative KDH, and the populist Sme Rodina to join the coalition. However, the negotiations will be tense and could eventually breakdown amid ideological and personal differences. Even if OLaNO manages to form a wide coalition government, it is unlikely to last a full term. Finally, if none of the nominated candidates manages to win the parliament’s confidence within six months, the president would appoint a technocrat cabinet and call new elections.

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