The Progressive Post

Slovakia: none of the potential future coalition governments is a full win solution

Chairperson of the NGO Progressive Forum

The former conservative-liberal coalition government that was voted to power in February 2020 and initially benefitted from a constitutional majority, but finally lost power by a non-confidence vote in the Parliament at the end of 2022, paved the way for the election results in the early election in September 2023.

The governments of Prime Ministers Igor Matovič and Eduard Heger (2020-2022) ruled the country through multiple crises, such as the pandemic, the energy crisis, inflation and, in particular, the food and energy price escalation, as well as the impact of the war in Ukraine at the country’s Eastern border. They were marked by high incompetence, growing tensions within the ruling coalition, a dramatic loss of popular trust and finally had to be replaced by a non-elected presidential government to lead the country until the early election of this September. The clear winner of these snap elections was Smer-Slovak Social Democracy (Smer-SSD, ‘Smer’ translates to ‘direction’), which, in its almost 30 years of existence, has made a turn from a centre-left to a national-conservative party, much blamed for corruption while in government for 12 years (2006-2010, 2012-2020). For Smer-SSD it is the fifth time it has won the general election, and its leader, Robert Fico, is likely to become Prime Minister for a fourth time.

The election campaign was to a great extent divided between pro-Fico and anti-Fico blocks, the latter composed of the liberal PS (Progressive Party) and several right-wing parties, of which only one – SaS (Liberty and Solidarity) – succeeded in entering Parliament, and the former populist winner of the 2020 election OĽANO, which campaigned against what it called the ‘mafia’ accusing Smer of a legacy of corruption. The frustration among the anti-Fico block is best illustrated by the reaction of Michal Šimečka, the leader of the liberal pro-western Progressive Slovakia (PS), which, despite first exit polls predicting its victory, finished second, and his claim that he would do everything to prevent Robert Fico from becoming prime minister again. According to the customary rule, the winner of the election is the first to be appointed by the President of the country to form a new government. The anti-Fico block predominantly accused Fico of his allegedly pro-Putin orientation.

While Smer-SSD did not campaign on the pledge to end military aid to Ukraine, his stance on this issue and its foreign policy orientation ‘towards West and East’ was very clear. Internationally, this explains a fear that Robert Fico would side with the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and further break the European unity on Ukraine. Smer-SD made commitments to further provide Ukraine with humanitarian aid and assistance in its post-war reconstruction, but never with weapons.Fico repeatedly called for immediate peace negotiations, and pledged to support Ukraine’s future membership in the European Union, but refused to support its NATO membership. This position was used as a pretext for accusing Smer-SD of an anti-EU and anti-NATO attitude by the anti-Fico block but was not corroborated by his pro-European and pro-NATO legacy as a Prime Minister in the past.

Fico won the election with his populist and conservative agenda concentrating on inflation, particularly fighting against high energy and food prices, and at the end of the campaign he committed to take measures against irregular immigration, which escalated in the last weeks of the campaign.

The third party in this election, Hlas (Voice)-Social Democracy – a spin-off from Smer – which is more pro-western and social-liberal, making it a better choice for a younger and higher educated left-leaning electorate, finds itself in the role of the kingmaker. Hlas risks being trapped by either of the two possible post-election choices of a new coalition: if it opts for forming a coalition with Smer, its former efforts of modernising the Social Democratic agenda could be put into question. The second option, joining a coalition with PS and SaS, is not a better one: while the MEPs of SaS are part of the ECR group, and those of PS are sitting in the ALDE group, domestically, they consider themselves to be the closest political partners. Therefore, for Hlas, a coalition with PS and the neoliberal SaS would prevent it from promoting a Social Democratic agenda too. Further, as PS and SaS reject any tax increases, the inevitable consolidation of government finance would be based solely on budget expenditure cuts.

Two of the results of the 2023 parliamentary election are undoubtedly positive: the electoral participation of 68.51 per cent, the highest in the last 20 years, and the elimination of the two xenophobic, anti-European parties from Parliament: Republika and the far-right party ĽSNS (‘People’s Party-OurSlovakia’). On the other side, a repeated absence of the Hungarian ethnic parties in the Slovak Parliament sends several possible messages: it either signals the end of ethnic parties and a growing political participation of the Hungarian minority in non-ethnic politics or signals internal tensions within the political representation of the 600,000 Slovaks of Hungarian ethnicity.

The most significant negative signal of the election results however is that none of the two potential coalition governments in its election manifestos made a strong commitment to a triple transition: an environmental transition including energy transformation (well elaborated only in the program of PS), a digital transition including transformation to an industry 4.0 and green industry and the third a social transformation focusing on active social state also focussed on services of general interest.

P.S. As time goes by, Hlas-SD has taken the decision to enter into a coalition with Smer and a nationalist-conservative party, the Slovak National Party (SNS). SNS was Smer’s junior partner in the government formed in 2006 and was responsible for the suspension of Smer’s membership in the PES. While SNS is required as the third party in order to form a functioning coalition government, together with the former rhetoric of Fico in the election campaign, it might lead to an identical decision of the European socialists. This would put a new prime minister (and Slovakia) in a disadvantageous position.

Photo credits: Shutterstock/Karol Skalnicky

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