Parliamentary Elections in Slovakia: Protest Party Wins, Pro-European Liberals Not in Parliament

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The eagerly awaited parliamentary elections in Slovakia are all over. Igor Matovič, the expected new Slovakian Prime Minister, became the clear winner with his anti-corruption movement “Ordinary People and Independent Personalities” (OĽaNO). OĽaNO won the election with 25.02%.

The elections brought at least two positive results. Firstly, the almost 14-year dominance of the social democratic party “Direction-Social Democracy” (Smer-SD), which is inextricably linked to corruption and clientelism in the country, has most likely come to an end.

Secondly, contrary to all predictions of opinion pollsters, the right-wing extremists from the “People’s Party – Our Slovakia” (L’SNS) have not been able to achieve big gains. Nevertheless, the election result is disappointing for Slovak liberals.

The liberal pro-European alliance “Progressive Slovakia / Together – Civic Democracy” (PS/Spolu), which was co-founded by the current president Zuzana Čaputová, missed the seven percent hurdle required for coalitions and did not enter parliament. What does all this mean for the future formation of a government?

The Winner Matovič

Although recent polls already indicated a significant increase in support for OĽaNO, the outstanding election result came as a surprise. With 25.02 percent of the votes, the movement secured 53 parliamentary seats in the 150-member Slovakian Parliament. The Social Democrats, who had long been leading in the election polls, came in second with a clear margin of almost seven percentage points.

Observers agree that the protest movement OĽaNO benefited from both – its strong campaign, which focused primarily on the fight against corruption, and from the personality of its leader Matovič, who was able to attract the attention of the media and voters with his unusual way of communicating.

The rise of OĽaNO began at the end of January, when Matovič visited the luxury villa of the former Social Democratic Minister of Finance and Transport, Ján Počiatek, on the Côte d’Azur and stuck the inscription “Property of the Slovak Republic” to the front gate.

According to Matovič, Počiatek could not legally earn enough money to buy such a house in such exquisite surroundings. The video and pictures of the villa in Cannes spread rapidly through the social networks.

The systematic focus on fighting corruption proved to be the basis of Matovič’s triumph.

With his promises, which other parties often described as populist, Matovič convinced not only many non-voters but also several supporters of the right-wing extremist L’SNS party, which only gained three seats in parliament compared to the last legislative period and fell far short of its expectations.

Pro-European Liberals Out of Play

Party members and supporters of the liberal coalition PS/Spolu experienced an emotional roller coaster from Saturday to Sunday on election night. After the publication of the first post-election polls, the pro-European alliance seemed to have won third place and overtaken the radical L’SNS.

A few hours later, however, it was clear that the coalition would not enter parliament. With 6.96 percent of the vote, the coalition failed to reach the required seven percent hurdle.

PS/Spolu became the second strongest force in Bratislava and won among Slovaks living abroad. In all other regions, however, it fell below seven percent, sometimes even below five percent.

Although the liberal coalition received more votes than the centre party “For the People” (Za ľudí) (5.77%) and the economically liberal and slightly Eurosceptic “Freedom and Solidarity” (SaS) (6.22%), it will ultimately not be represented in parliament, partly because of a failed election campaign tactic.

Progressive Slovakia has suffered a considerable ‘anti-campaign’ as even the other democratic parties have bashed them for ‘extreme liberalism,” says Zuzana Kepplová, a journalist for the Slovak newspaper SME.

Especially OĽaNO attacked the PS/Spolu for advocating a quota system for the distribution of asylum seekers among EU member states. Migration remains a sensitive issue in Slovakia.

Some observers point out that PS/Spolu and former President Andrej Kiska’s “For the People” party would have jointly won over 10% of the vote. However, the two groups missed this opportunity.

The leader of PS, Michal Truban, said that his party would think intensively about the next steps in the coming days. He added that the party wanted to continue working for the future of Slovakia. Truban, however, does not want to run for the position of party leader any more.

Incidentally, for the first time in history, no member of the Hungarian minority will be represented in the Slovakian parliament.

The two ethnic Hungarian parties that represent the interests of the Hungarian minority jointly received only about six percent. However, none of them overcame the required five percent hurdle.

Which Coalitions Are Possible?

Election winner Matovič describes himself as “value conservative and economic liberal with a strong social sensibility”. He confirmed that his movement does not want to introduce civil partnerships or adoptions of children by homosexuals.

A change in migration policy is not to be expected either. For Slovakia, he said, it was above all a matter of repairing the foundations of the rule of law.

Boris Kollár, whose conservative-populist party “We are Family” (Sme rodina) became the third strongest party with 8.24%, also strictly rejects liberal reforms such as the introduction of civil partnerships. Kollár’s party, which like OĽaNO is difficult to classify ideologically, could become the second strongest member of a possible coalition.

Matovič announced that he would negotiate with all parties that had previously spoken out against cooperation with Smer-SD. Specifically, he named Sme rodina, Za ľudí and SaS. Theoretically, he could achieve the parliamentary majority of 76 seats with the support of two of the mentioned parties.

However, the head of OĽaNO has already stated that he prefers the formation of a four-party coalition in order to be able to push for constitutional amendments. With a constitutional majority of 90 votes, Matovič would like to introduce, among other things, a security screening of judges.

The question remains how stable such a four-party coalition can be. Just like Igor Matovič, Boris Kollár is considered to be an unpredictable partner.

For example, his party Sme rodina supported the law introducing a 13th month salary for pensioners, which the Social Democrats pushed through just four days before the parliamentary elections. Some parties of the democratic opposition called this measure electoral corruption.

Matovič, however, believes in the success of coalition negotiations and promises that the future coalition would not fail because of a dispute over fundamental values.

His goal will be to convince voters that he can bring about the longed-for “change” in Slovak politics, that he is the one who can break the deep-rooted ties between politics and oligarchs.

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Natalie Marakova
Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom