With the parliamentary elections approaching, Slovakia is facing an unprecedented situation of uncertainty. The elections are held after four challenging years, marked by the murder of the journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kušnírová, a number of subsequent anti-government protests, and months of revelations of corruption and malignant practices leading to some of the most senior public officials.
All this led to a decline of institutional trust and pressure for a number of public officials to resign – and they eventually did.
The former Prime Minister, Róbert Fico resigned, as well as Róbert Kaliňák, the former Minister of Interior, and several other Ministers (Marek Maďarič – the Minister of Culture, Lucia Žitňanská – the Minister of Justice, Tomáš Drucker – the Minister of Healthcare, and the President of Slovak Police Force – Tibor Gašpar, to name just a few.
Despite the fact that the government led by SMER-SD persisted, the popularity of the governing coalition (SMER, SNS, Most-HID) has had a dropping trend for months.
In addition, the extremist party, Ľudová strana – Naše Slovensko, has been on the rise and the democratic opposition remains to be still split with some parties being on the verge of electability.
At the end of 2019, a populist effort to extend the silent period before elections to 50 days was proposed. What was the reaction of the public? A crowdfunding campaign for a preference poll was successfully established.
Now, right before the elections, the poll results are spreading fast, pointing to yet again one unnecessary regulation – the fourteen-day silent period which is still in place, while the 50-day proposal was vetoed by the President.
And it does not end here! A week before elections the ruling coalition is betting its last on another populist social package, which we will address further.
There are currently 24 political parties running for office, with one (Hlas pravice) leaving the race just little more than a week before the elections.
Some of Slovakia’s citizens that live abroad already had the possibility to cast the ballot by mail, even though some of them did not receive all party lists in time or did not receive them at all. Hence the uncertainty.
At INESS, we tried to draw attention back to the most significant aspect to consider – what do the political parties actually offer (or not). In order to do so, we tucked into parties’ manifestos in five areas (education, tax policy, business environment and labor market, agriculture and health care) and assessed their comprehensibility, complexity, and, most importantly, tangible solutions and results the parties presented.1
Low added value of agricultural production, uncompetitive farms, fragmented land ownership, complicated land-use relations, and aimless subsidy policies are the issues to which we were trying to find solutions to in party manifestos.
Generally speaking, the manifestos tended to come out more as broad proclamations, without providing specific steps on how to achieve the given objective. Thus, what we evaluated positively was when parties managed to specify issues closely and quantified the costs of their proposals.
This is mostly true for the group of parties PS/Spolu, Za ľudí, and KDH, which raised important issues, but often fell short in going into depth of solutions.
On the other hand, SaS achieved the highest number of points in our evaluation due to the fact that it provided a very detailed explanation of its proposals, and addressed the importance of making some institutions more transparent.
Business Environment and Labor Market
Measures to improve the business environment are an expected component of party manifestos – if they exist. The two preferentially strongest parties did not bother with any manifesto, so they made our work a little easier.
The parties with lower scores provided about a dozen stances to the whole debate.
On the other hand, SaS stood out with their mastodon manifesto book, where the business environment had dozens of pages.
It must be said that also the remaining parties devoted a satisfactory amount of space to the business environment as well (Za ľudí, KDH, PS/SPOLU, MKS or OĽANO).
However, most parties have reflected on those measures which have been discussed for a long time, those which do not require dramatic financial or political costs, and where there is little controversy about their usefulness for the business environment.
Some offered bolder suggestions and reforms, but there is a good dose of empty declarations, too.
As for education, the majority of political parties started from the well-known – the necessity of raising salaries of teachers, emphasis on resolving the insufficient places available for children in kindergartens, as well as a broad curricula reform.
The most notable weaknesses of manifestos were related to the fact that they did not manage to elaborate more on their proposals, which eventually turned out to be rather abstract and vaguely designed.
Consequently, this is reflected in the more-or-less balanced evaluation, with only SaS slightly peeking out.
The reason for this is that they party did strictly stick to their priorities and did not propose wide, proclamation-like reasoning, as well as they addressed a wider number of aspects to improve in detail, while other parties tended to follow the general discourse, paying limited or no attention to good practices from abroad (e.g. British Free schools).
Tax Policy/ Tax Environment
A number of parties describe in detail the preferred changes of taxes, but some do not base their proposals on expenditure savings, nor on new taxes. In our assessment, those who prefer a lower tax burden and take an accountable stance towards public finances get more points.
It should also be stressed that most electoral manifestos seem not to consider that the new government will inherit public finances with a deficit of 1.5-2% of GDP, and the primary task will be to tackle this problem.
While assessing health care, INESS teamed up with INEKO, HPI, and analysts Martin Smatana and Michal Štofko.
SaS has managed to address the health care in the most adequate manner. The individual assessments of each institute involved all agreed on that. SaS has the most comprehensive program – in the TOP10 measures, SaS has 6 measures, in the TOP50 they have 21.
The worst health care program was proposed by ĽSNS and SMER-SD. At the same time, they have the lowest complexity and the largest share of negatively assessed measures.
In the end, the above-mentioned uncertainty is also reflected in the events of the past days. The governing coalition is trying to catch the last straw of support by attempting to double the child allowance, introduce the 13th pension, and finally, abolish vignettes. This “electoral campaign” may as well be the most expensive one in the history, with estimated total costs of around EUR 800 million.
According to KEA – The Association of Economic Analysts, the proposed measures will increase the deficit by EUR 513 million in 2020 and EUR 813 million. In relation to GDP it is 0.5% of GDP in 2020 and 0.8% in 2021.
This means that doubling of child allowance might have an impact of EUR 300 million in 2021, the 13th pension approximately EUR 443 million (without Christmas allowances of EUR 147 million.). The cancellation of vignettes was estimated to have an impact of EUR 20 million.
If approved, the overall deficit will reach 2.3% of GDP in 2020, almost 3% of GDP in 2021, and 3.2% of GDP in 2022.
Many renowned economists (including those at INESS) warn that such budgetary expenditure will be a trap for the next government and consequently lead to “belt tightening.”
1 INESS decided to take into account only those parties which have passed the electoral threshold of 5% (7% for coalition of PS/SPOLU) on the day of the assessment according to relevant public opinion polls. The assessment was based on a 0-10 scale, where 0 meant the least detailed, rather vague proclamations and 10 represented detailed, well-crafted pro-market solutions, often supported by cost-benefit assessment.
Slovakia Before Elections: A Chance for Change?