Four takeaways from Slovakia’s parliamentary election

The Movement of Ordinary People and Independent Personalities (OL’aNO), a centre-right populist party led by Igor Matovič, a millionaire and former news business owner, scored a decisive win in Slovakia’s parliamentary election on February 29, taking more than 25 per cent of the votes and more than doubling its result from the previous election held four years ago.

The ruling social democrats (Smer) of Slovak prime minister Peter Pellegrini saw support fall, although the party still came in second with 18.3 per cent of the vote. Both of its erstwhile coalition partners – the right-wing SNS party and the Slovak-Hungarian Most-Híd party – failed to reach the five per cent threshold required to return MPs to the National Council, Slovakia’s parliament.

In total, just six parties entered parliament: besides OL’aNO and Smer, the pro-family and eurosceptic Sme Rodina party of Slovak businessman Boris Kollár took 8.2 per cent, the neo-fascist L’SNS party led by Marian Kotleba eight per cent, the libertarian SaS party 6.2 per cent and the centre-right Za L’udi party of former Slovak president Andrej Kiska 5.8 per cent.

Here are four takeaways on what the election result means for Slovak politics.

1. A centre-right coalition of anti-graft parties

The election, which was overshadowed by the contract-killing of Ján Kuciak, a Slovak investigative journalist and his fiancée in early 2018 and the failure of the Slovak government to stand up to state-wide corrupton, prove the Slovak people’s strong desire for fundamental change in the their country’s public life.

With Let’s Beat the Mafia Together as its slogan, OL’aNO ran on a populist, anti-corruption platform and the party has without a doubt capitalised on the public’s dissatisfaction with former prime minister Robert Fico, Smer’s longtime leader. Only two weeks after Mr Kuciak and his fiancée were shot dead, Mr Fico was forced to resign as PM to save his government from collapsing.

“Slovakia has woken up,” Mr Matovič proudly claimed, whose movement has promised mandatory asset declarations for politicians and businesspeople, rewards for those exposing corruption, higher financial support for mothers on maternity leave, free public transport for children and the elderly, as well as lowering taxes for those who participate in elections.

Poised to become the country’s next prime minister, Mr Matovič will most likely govern with support from a coalition of at least three parties: OL’aNO is expected to join forces with SaS and Za L’udi. They will have a combined 78 MPs: 76 are needed to form a majority government.

Mr Matovič will also open the door to Sme Rodina.

“I want to see him in government. We need a constitutional majority because we have to clean the justice system,” Mr Matovič said about Mr Kollár, the head of Sme Rodina, whose 17 MPs will take the coalition beyond the 90 needed to make constitutional changes.

Mr Matovič is expected to be Slovakia’s next prime minister. Photo: OL’aNO official Facebook Page

Such a four-party coalition might cause uncertainty in the new government given that Mr Kollár, Sme Rodina’s leader, is also alleged to have ties to the organised crime and Mr Matovič has repeatedly had disagreements with him. However, anti-Smer sentiment will unite the Slovakia political centre-right in the coming days – either three of them with external support from Sme Rodina or all four of them.

2. No breakthrough on the Slovak far-right

The biggest concern prior to the election was if the L’SNS party, an openly neo-fascist formation headed by Marian Kotleba, would make big gains or even emerge as one of the two largest parties in the country. L’SNS failed to meet expectations however: the far-right party received about the same number of votes as 2016.

Mr Kotleba and his supporters are vocal supporters of Jozef Tiso, Slovakia’s fascist ruler during World War II, and he has denounced NATO as a “terrorist organisation”. Ethnic Roma have been labelled “social parasites.”

The defeat of the far-right was also reflected in the electoral performance of the SNS party, which has been been criticised for being anti-Hungarian and which failed to enter the National Council despite being a minor coalition party.

Despite Mr Matovič being widely regarded as a textbook populist, his movement is built on pro-EU and pro-NATO foundations and remains a member of the European People’s Party, a moderate centre-right political family, offering reassurance for those being troubled by the Slovak far-right.

Mr Kollár’s Sme Rodina on the other hand has sided with French and Italian nationalist parties in the European Parliament.

3. Liberals and Hungarians are the ultimate losers

While pre-election polls suggested that the liberal Progressive Slovakia (PS) party of Slovak president Zuzana Čaputová, that ran in a coalition with the centrist Spolu (Together) party, would gain more than nine per cent of the vote, the coalition received just 6.97 per cent, failing to pass the seven per cent parliamentary threshold set for two-party alliances by less than a thousand votes.

Mr Matovič wanted the PS/Spolu alliance to be part of the new government, together with the KDH party which also failed to enter the National Council.

“In the coming days, we will think the future over, correct the mistakes and continue to fight for the Slovakia we imagined,” said Michal Truban, the head of the Progressive Slovakia party.

A year ago, PS/Spolu received the highest share of the vote in European elections, but has gradually lost support in recent months to Mr Kiska’s Za L’udi party as well as OL’aNO.

By far the biggest losers of the elections however are the more than 450,000 ethnic Hungarians who – for the first time in the history of democratic Slovakia – will not be represented by ethnic parties: the Party of the Hungarian Community (MKP) and their political partners received only 3.9 per cent, while the Slovak-Hungarian Most-Híd party got only two per cent. The PS/Spolu coalition’s performance is a defeat for Hungarians as well, since they were supportive of minorities, with PS even having a Hungarian platform within the party.

Their stunning defeat comes as the two parties failed to come together and neither was to offer more than simply being “a Hungarian” party.

After a Smer-led government that supported a law that stripped Slovak Hungarians of their citizenship if they also took Hungarian citizenship, Mr Matovič claims that he will represent the Roma and Hungarian communities and fight for the better education of the two minorities.

4. Slovakia might have a huge democratic deficit

With the final results announced, only six parties entered the National Council, even though there were 24 parties running in the election.

While this is not exceptional in the European political sphere, there is an issue President Čaputová has urged the parties to address.

Combined, the six parties entering the National Council picked up only 66.2 per cent of the total vote, meaning that one third of the votes cast during the election were not turned into mandates.

This has not always been the case: during the 2016 elections, eight parties received enough votes to get into parliament with a combined share of 86 per cent of the total vote.

Nonetheless, the results of the parliamentary elections show that the time might have come for addressing the issue by reforming the country’s election system to increase democratic representation, especially in light of the fact that the 65.8 per cent turnout on February 29 was the highest in 14 years.