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Slovakia’s Presidential Election: What the numbers say.

I thought there was not much to say about the results of the recent presidential elections in Slovakia, but I after writing the 2000 words below, I seem to have been wrong (or I have written a lot of words about nothing. Having taken a closer look at the numbers, I see in them both a confirmation of conventional wisdom—the strength of the right-wing vote, the weakness on the left-wing vote—along with often overlooked considerations about the role of political supply in addition to political demand and the pivotal role of new faces. 

The Big Picture:
Fico gets some voters back, but Kiska takes the center right

After the first round, I made the (rather obvious) argument that this election would be decided by 1) the degree to which Fico the degree to which he could mobilize his own voters and simultaneously 2) could delegitimize Kiska and thereby pry center-right voters away from him, and that some combination of both would be necessary.  The results of the second round suggest that his efforts fell short on both counts, but especially on the second.  On the first front, Fico managed in the second round to increase his support in areas where he was already popular, suggesting that he did manage to increase turnout among his own supporters by a significant, but even among these he did not reach the mobilization levels he obtained in the (admittedly unusually pro-Smer) 2012 parliamentary election. On the second front, Fico’s efforts appear to have failed completely: evidence suggests that in the second round Kiska won nearly all of the votes of the supporters of other center-right parties in addition to his own (relatively fewer) first round voters.   In a way that is not surprising since voters of the Center Right are unlikely to listen to critiques coming from the mouth of Fico.

Several tables and charts provide an effective overview of the election.  These are, in a way, massively oversimplified, suggesting, among other things, an undifferentiated spectrum within the center right, when in fact it ranges from strong Catholics to strong agnostics, from doctrinaire free-marketeers to those who are willing to accept a social market hybrid, and from ethnic Hungarians (whom I classify under Center Right for convenience) to ethnic Slovaks with a strong national sense.  It also suggests there is /any/ connection between the ‘other’ presidential candidates from the Communist Party with those of more nationally-oriented forces, with a series of rather idiosyncratic efforts).  In the case of the Center Right, there are enough similarities and historical ties of similarity that the comparison is warranted; in the case of the “others”, the number of such voters is so small as to not have great impact on the overall outcome.

Table 1. Votes and percentages for candidates in the first and second rounds of Slovakia’s 2014 presidential election
Raw votes (rounded to the nearest 1,000)
  2nd round vote compared to first round vote
Round Change, 2nd-1st rounds
1st 2nd Narrow (candidate only) Wide (candidate and associated)
Kiska              456,000          1,307,000 +851,000 -15,000
Right              866,000  -   - 
Fico              532,000              894,000  +362,000  +316000
Other                46,000 - -
Percentage
  2nd round vote compared to first round vote
Round Change, 2nd-1st rounds
1st 2nd Narrow (candidate only) Wide (candidate and associated)
Kiska 24% 59% 35% -10%
Right 46%  -   - 
Fico 28% 41% 13%

10%

Other 2% - -

Source for all tables and charts: http://prezident2014.statistics.sk/Prezident-dv/download-sk.html, and http://volby.statistics.sk/nrsr/nrsr2012/menu/indexd.jsp@lang=sk.htm

What does Table 1 show us?  Assuming my a priori logic about the existence of a programmatically coherent bloc of Center Right voters (taken as a bloc the largest single group), it appears that the bloc shifted en masse to Kiska, and gave him his second round victory.  Surveys (http://www.sme.sk/c/7137934/kto-su-volici-fica-kisku-a-prochazku-volebne-grafy.html) suggest that Kiska was a viable option for nearly all voters of the Center Right whereas Fico was not, and the number of voters gained by Kiska nicely matches the number of those who supported losing Center Right candidates (differing by a mere 15,000).  Since we do not know who these voters are, however, such evidence is purely circumstantial unless we go deeper.   What we discover is that while appearances may sometimes be deceiving, in this case they are not.

A Collage of Small Pictures:
Little pieces tell the same story

The second table shows a new set of patterns based on correlations between vote share among candidates at the municipal level.  These compare patterns of performance of Kiska and the Right, Fico and the other candidates and do so across the first and second rounds.

Table 2. Correlations between municipal-level votes in various categories
in the first and second rounds of Slovakia’s 2014 presidential election.

Relationship between candidate vote and potentially associated candidates in the first round:

  • No relationship between the Kiska vote and the Right vote
  • No relationship between the Kiska vote and the “Other” vote

Relationship between the combined vote of the candidate and associated candidates in the first round and the votes for the candidate himself in the second round

  • A very strong relationship (.94) between voting for Kiska and the right in the first round and Kiska alone in the second round.
  • An identically strong relationship (.94) between voting for Fico and the “other” candidates in the first round and Fico alone in the second round.

Relationship between candidate vote in the first and second rounds

  • Moderate relationship for Kiska (.41) suggesting that something major affected his geographical appeal (and since his vote total rose, it suggests that it is related to the new voters)
  • Strong relationship for Fico (.94) suggesting that his vote increased across the board without changing geographical patterns

Relationship between candidate vote and gain in the second round

  • No relationship for Kiska (.04)  suggesting that new votes came from areas outside the candidate’s initial base
  • Moderate relationship for Fico (.34) suggesting that the 2nd round efforts tended (at least more than in the case of Kiska) to mobilize voters from the candidate’s base.

Relationship between “related vote” in first round and candidate gain in second round

  • Extremely high for Kiska (.92) suggesting that most new voters came from the base of the right candidates (if not the same exact voters)
  • Moderate for Fico (.30) suggesting that some new voters may have come from the “other” candidates but that these were drowned out by those coming from the candidate’s base. 

So this gives quite direct evidence for what I already strongly suspected (and what other pollsters knew long before I did, http://spectator.sme.sk/articles/view/53464/2/ficos_voters_boosted_turnout.html): that Fico’s new voters in the second round came from newly remobilized supporters in his existing regional support bases while Kiska’s new votes came as a transfer of the already mobilized first round center right voters  (Of course not all of Kiska’s vote came from previous center-right voters: some of those no doubt stayed home and some new voters no doubt turned out, but the overall pattern is remarkably strong and so they appear to have canceled each other out.)

A few graphs can help make this rather concrete (I’ve decided to put the labels in even though they are mostly illegible where the cases bunch up.  It’s ugly but it allows for a look at some of the outliers, mainly the Hungarian cases, but explaining those is a job for another day). 

Figure 1. Kiska first round and second round. Vertical cluster suggests that improvements were largely independent of first round performance

Figure 2. Center right first round and Kiska second round. Diagonal pattern suggests that Kiska’s second round was closely related to first round performance of the center right.

Figure 3. Fico results first round and Fico gain second round.  Diagonal pattern suggests that Fico’s second round performance was closely related to his first round performance.

Figure 4. “Other” first round and Fico gain in second round. Vertical cluster suggests that improvements were largely independent of gains from “Other” candidates.

These snapshots of “obvod” (subdistrict) level voting show a strong correlation between right candidate support in round 1 and Kiska gains in round 2, but they do not show much of a relationship between Kiska’s own results in round 1 and 2 (more of a vertical distribution).  The opposite pattern is apparent for Fico with a very slight contribution from “other” candidates and a strong correlation between his round 1 and 2 results.  Fico drew second round voters where he had already drawn first round voters, but he drew more of them.

A Moving Picture:
Old patterns filtered by new choices

The patterns here draw attention to the ways that this election fits into the broader sweep of Slovakia’s political history.  Looking at the ways in which Fico’s second-round presidential vote followed first round patterns tells us something about the stability of his support (and the lack of influx from other sources).  Looking at the relationship between candidates’ 2014 performance and that of their respective parties in 2012 helps explain why the election was so (unexpectedly) lopsided.  As the graph below shows, the Fico’s results in 2014 almost perfectly followed his party’s results in 2012, but they were lower, much lower. 

Table 5. Fico vote share in first and second rounds compared to Smer vote share in 2012. Note that in most obvods even Fico’s second round performance falls short of the diagonal line that indicates parity with 2012.

In the first round, Fico received an average of fewer 11,000 votes per sub-region.  In the second round that gap dropped but Fico still turned out 5,000 fewer voters per sub-region than his party had in 2012.  Of course some drop is natural since presidential elections usually have lower turnout levels than parliamentary elections in Slovakia, but it only works if your opponents also have lower turnout levels than in the past.  As the third table shows, the 2014 vote did not work that way. 

Table 3. Presidential candidates’ 2014 vote totals as a share of the vote totals of their respective parties in 2012
  2014 vote as a share of 2012 vote
First Second
Fico 47% 79%
Right 84% -
Kiska -

127%

After turning out fewer than half of his 2012 voters in the first round, Fico managed to increase that in the second round to nearly 80% of his 2012 performance, but—and this may be the single most interesting statistical result of the election—the six candidates of the center right had together already achieved a mobilization level above 80% in the first round, not including votes that went to Kiska.  In fact, the candidates from center-right parties attracted nearly as many votes in the first round as Fico did in his much improved performance in the second round.  And when the center-right voters shifted joined with the already significant share of voters who had already opted for Kiska, Fico did not have a chance.

Even without Kiska in the race, Fico faced big challenges—bigger than I saw at the time.  In running for president, Fico needed to outperform his own party’s parliamentary support level by something over 5% (since Smer had only managed 44.4% in the previous election), and the degree of necessary outperformance increased with every drop in Smer’s support.  By early 2014, the Smer’s preference levels had dropped to the high 30%’s , requiring Fico to outperform his party by at least 12 percentage points.  In the second round, Fico probably did outperform his party, but if we use the latest FOCUS polling numbers (http://www.focus-research.sk/files/168_Preferencie%20politickych%20stran_jan-feb_2014.pdf) that outperformance was probably in the neighborhood of 3% rather than 12%. 

Of course elections are not about the level of preference alone but about comparative preferences.  The right seems to have managed its high first-round mobilization not through skillful campaigning or inspiring candidates but through a wide degree of choice (each slightly different flavor bringing out a slightly different group of voters) and a common enemy (the prospect of Fico and his party occupying every major political institution).  Had a center-right candidate gotten into the second, however, Smer could have benefitted from some of the same logic in the second round: the right could no longer provide such a high degree of choice and Smer voters would also have had a common enemy (the prospect of, say, Prochazka, occupying the presidency).  This might have increased the Smer turnout above 80% and also limited the gains the center right could make in the second round, and at least produced a close election.

Instead, it would appear, the presence of Kiska in the second round gave the center right the best of both worlds: it preserved the first round center-right mobilization by offering a (marginally) acceptable candidate who could promise to stop Fico, and who could also attract voters for whom center right candidates were also anathema.  At the same time, Kiska presented Smer with significant problems since, for all the claims about scientology, usury and inexperience, he was apparently not frightening enough to push Smer voters and sympathizers to the polls.

Previews of Coming Attractors?
What this election might tell us about the next one(s)

Let me finish with some half-baked speculation that deserves to be looked at with a very critical eye.  For all its infighting and its poor choices—of which there are many examples—Slovakia’s center right has managed to remain a player because it has managed to retain the allegiance of the Hungarian minority and has managed to accommodate the emergence of multiple, sequential new players (SOP, ANO, SaS, OLaNO, and now Kiska) who provide outlets for dissatisfied voters whereas with the exception of the period between about 1999 and 2003, the opposite side of the political spectrum has been dominated by a single party that tries (successfully in the case of Smer, ultimately less successfully in the case of HZDS) to present itself as an unstoppable force and to prevent the emergence of rival players.  The result on the right has been a surprising degree of success (1998, 2002, 2010, now Kiska in 2014) usually followed by paralysis among the multiple players whose presence in the electoral market allowed the victory in the first place.  The result on the left has been political forces that win big pluralities but often lack sufficient allies to create a majority.

Toward this end, Fico’s poor performance in the 2014 presidential election may hold a certain perverse hope for Slovakia’s left.  If the result of this election is to produce cracks in that party or even just to open a space in the minds of some voters (and, especially, some funders), then we might see an end to Fico’s skillful institutional monopolization of political space.  If Fico and his party cannot preserve their one-party parliamentary majority, then the emergence of new parties on the center left might be able to sop up some of the dissatisfied voters who seem to have decided that Fico is just the same as all the others.  Kiska, a candidate not unfriendly toward the center right picked up those pivotal floating voters in this presidential election.  New center right parties such as Prochazka’s and NoVa will try to pick them up in the next parliamentary election but with varying degrees of success.  Fico can hope that the center right continues its intra-familial feuds and ends up with a bunch of parties just below the threshold (not necessarily a bad bet given the past track record of the right), but by relinquishing a little control on the left and allowing a new party somewhere on that side of the spectrum might actually help him remain prime minister.  (As to whether that’s what Fico actually wants, I’ve decided to stop speculating on matters that exist only in the heads of distant leaders.)

Slovakia’s Presidential Election: Wrapping it up

Clear victory for Kiska.  Not much else to say at the moment.  Good analysis on STV so I turn it over to them.  Tomorrow I’ll try to look at shifts in support between the two elections to give us a sense of what this means for coalition patterns. 

As in the past, it seems to be the new voters, those turned off by both major “sides” who seem to hold the key.  We have seen non-left/national governments only when there has been a new and quasi-independent force.  Schuster in 1999, Kiska now, SDK with SDL in 1998, SDKU with ANO in 2002, SDKU with SaS in 2010.  In 2012 the right was too damaged by the Gorilla scandals and infighting to take advantage of OLaNO) Whenever you have straight left against straight right without the middle, the different, the straight left/national seems to have the advantage: Smer in 2006, Gasparovic in 2010.  If it had been Fico v. Prochazka would we have seen the same spread? or even the same Fico loss?  Fewer voters would have turned out for the Prochazka (many Kiska voters would likely have stayed home) and more voters would have turned out for Fico, lest Prochazka win (in Fico v. Kiska election the loss wasn’t /that/ great).   Would that have covered a 19 point spread?  Somebody please invent a time machine or a portal to the multiverse so we can find out.

We’ll see tomorrow what the regional results look like. 

Time for bed for Slovaks, but not for me.  I’m off to a play put on by my school district’s amazing music program.

Slovakia’s Presidential Election: Kiska wins

Hard to see how Fico wins at this point: 59:41, with the lead increasing but at a declining rate.

A friend of mine (who shall for the moment remain nameless) predicted 60:40 for Kiska.  Looks like she may be right.  I’d guess 60.5 to 39.5.

Turnout looks like maybe 52?  Slightly lower than 2009 second round.

 

 

Slovakia’s Presidential Election: First results coming in

And with .01% of the vote in… Kiska slightly ahead. 51:49. 
With 10% of the precincts in, a big jump for Kiska… 57:43. 

Given the way Fico’s vote changes over time, that’s a bad sign.  Really very bad.

If this trend keeps up through 25% of precincts, it’s pretty clear.

 

 

Slovakia’s Presidential Election Second Round: Awaiting Results

Polls are just closing now and we shall see what we shall see.

The only thing to pay attention to at the earliest moments is that according to the minute-by-minute returns from the first round (thanks to Sme.sk–somebody has been paying attention to details–http://www.sme.sk/c/7137934/kto-su-volici-fica-kisku-a-prochazku-volebne-grafy.html–Fico’s results at the first five minute point slightly exceeded his final totals (30% to 28%).  Kiska’s were also higher but only slightly (25% to 24%), and those of the losing center-right candidates (Prochazka, Knazko) were slightly lower.  If Kiska picks up some of those right-wing voters, even half, his numbers should stay roughly the same over time, while Fico’s will likely follow the declining pattern.  If, therefore, Kiska is less than 1.5% behind in the first 5 minutes, he is the likely winner.

It is also notable, for those who care, that turnout was slightly lower at the smaller precincts that hand in their results early, so total turnout may end up higher than we see at first glance.

Slovakia Presidential Elections: Morning-After Thoughts on Results

A few quick supplementary thoughts:

  • What can we expect in the second round?  I’ll try to avoid speculating on the nature of the campaigning except to say that I suspect all gloves are off.  What I am more interested in is the nature of the shifts in voters between this round and the next. 
    • If we assume that both Fico and Kiska votes who turned out yesterday will turn out again, that gives us 530k votes for Fico and 455k votes for Kiska, a difference of 75k votes. 
    • But of course we have to look at other voters.  Some of those are voters who did not vote in the first round.  Between the first round and the second round in the 2009 election, turnout rose from 1890k to 2240k, an increase of 350k I would guess that we could assume a similar increase this time.  


      Turnout for various elections in Slovakia, 1990 to the present. Note that turnout in every election category has stabilized since 2005. In the 2009 presidential election, first round turnout was just over 43% and second round turnout was 55%. In the 2014 presidential election, first round turnout was also just over 43%

    • We also have to look at what happens to those who participated in the election but voted for candidates other than Fico and Kiska now have the option to vote for the candidate closest to them or to stay home. 

      • The voters for candidates who were in clear opposition to Fico (and who more or less agreed to encourage their voters to support the not-Fico candidate) actually total about 850k, divided among 400k (Prochazka, formerly KDH) + 240k (Knazko, formerly DU, SDKU) + 100k (Bardos, SMK) + 60k (Hrusovsky, KDH, a surprisingly small share perhaps showing the strains within KDH between old and new guards), + 40k (Mezenska, OLaNO) + 10k (Carnogursky, formerly KDH, a not surprising but rather humiliating total).

      •  The voters for candidates with more pro-Fico or overall less readable voter profiles total about 45k: 12k (Jurista, KSS), 10k (Fischer, formerly HZDS, but also ZZ), 9k (Behyl, apparently formerly Smer), 8k (Melnik, formerly HZDS), 5k (Simko, unclear to me but formerly supported Gasparovic), 3k (Martincko, unclear). 

  • What can we say from these numbers?  Let us make some unrealistic but clarifying assumptions

    • that 1/2 of voters for losing candidates will simply stay home because they no longer care about the outcome if their candidate isn’t in the race,

    • that about 1 in 1o voters of losing candidates will shift across the aisle from an anti-Fico candidate to Fico and from a non-right candidate to Kiska.  This seems odd but in my experience about 1/10 voters do things that seem odd to the outsider but for which they have their own idiosyncratic reasons.

  • This yields the following results:

    • For Fico, 40k from right wing candidates, and 18k from non-right wing candidates;

    • for Kiska, 5k from non-right wing candidates, and 160k from right-wing candidates. 

    • That yields a new balance of 588k for Fico (530k+40k+18k) and 620 for Kiska (455k+160k+5k). 

  • But that depends heavily on the assumptions above.  If, by contrast, only 1/4 of losing candidate voters stay home, the balance is more in Kiska’s favor:

    • 597k for Fico against 700k for Fico. 

  • Of course this does not factor in the new voters who will come into the electorate in a second round.  Between the first and second round in 2009, the vote total rose from 1890k to 2240k.  Assuming a similar increase and given the kinds of dropoff discussed above, this means an influx of about 1 million voters who did not vote the first round.  What can we say about these?

    • If Fico wins those in the same ratio that votes were distributed between him and Kiska (about 7:6 or 1.16:1.00) then he could expect about 80k more than Fico among the new voters, which is enough to beat Kiska if right wing voters stay home at the 1/2 ratio, but not if they stay home only at the 1/4 ratio.  

    • If Fico wins votes only in the same ratio that votes were distributed between him and Kiska plus the right, (about 2:3 or 0.66:1.00, then Fico loses the second round no matter what.   

  • It doesn’t take a political scientist to figure out that the key to the next round will be Fico’s ability to demobilize the right-wing voters who voted in the first round and to prevent any non-voters on the right from turning out in favor of Kiska.  If he does that absolutely perfectly, he can win without any additional turnout on his side, but perfection is unlikely, so he is also going to have to fire up the Smer turnout machine.  For every potential right-wing voter he can’t demobilize (and that number probably ranges from 400k to maybe 800k, he is going to increase his own turnout by the same amount).  This is a party that has pulled in 1.1 million before, and probably had a lot of complacent voters in this last round, so an addition of 400-600k isn’t impossible, but it is going to take a lot more work.  The challenge for Kiska is now going to be getting the full /and active/ support of the right, not only their tacit recommendation but the efforts of their own (rather less effective) turnout machines.  If the right can provide even a modicum of unambiguous support, then they have a decent chance of winning a mid-term political victory and a creating counterweight to what they see as an over-reaching left-wing majority government.

  • Why Slovakia has Never Had A Centre-Right President.   This doesn’t even require morning-after “thought.”  Why? Because they rarely get to the second round.   Because–as with nearly everything else on Slovakia’s centre-right–they can’t agree who should get to campaign.  In a very practical sense (and here I discard any attempt at theorizing), Slovakia has a rough balance between two camps, (earlier it was democratic-cosmopolitan against more authoriarian-national, now it is economic left versus economic right with some residual feelings that the former is authoritarian-national and the later is democratic-cosmopolitian).  In each case  the former has often been better at organizing around a single individual: Meciar in the first case, Fico in the second (which is not to say that these two represent the same values or the same camp).  At times the right has managed to do the same in more of a “first-among-equals” model (Dzurinda in 1998, Radicova in 2009 and 2010), though these came almost by accident, and only when the powers that be were willing to compromise on a second-tier but electorally gifted common candidate.  The success of the right has also depended on the emergence of a third-force willing to work with the established right parties but able to attract votes from those who were disillusioned with both sides: Schuster in 1998, Rusko in 2002, Sulik in 2010 (this also happened with Matovic in 2012 but it still wasn’t enough).  These additional draws helped the established parties of the right in each case to form a majority in parliament even when the opposing force was numerically stronger, sometimes by a large margin.  It is fascinating to me the degree to which the strengths and weaknesses of both sides are so linked together.  The left has, at the moment, a large and fairly coherent party, but its organizational near-monopoly leaves fewer opportunities for attracting  those who are sympathetic to the side but do not like those who are actually in charge of it.  We may see that in this presidential election where Fico’s reservoir of active supporters of losing candidates is significantly smaller than Kiska’s.  The right, has, at the moment, a very wide spectrum of offerings that attract people of many different stripes and that probably helps them attract a few extra voters (though again it was insufficient in 2012 in the wake of gorilla scandal), but a poor track record of coordinating those multiple streams into a single voice (hence the coalition disarray in 2011, and the inability to avoid multiple candidates in 2004 and 2013).  It will be interesting to see if a loss by Fico (or even a tiny-margin victory) will produce some move toward a new force that can attract those disillusioned but left-leaning voters, either from within Smer or from without.  As for the right, perhaps this most recent example will bring some move toward consolidation, but that’s hard to envision as long as every single ambitious person on the right believes that /he/ is the only one who can accomplish the task.

Slovakia Presidential Election: Results

I don’t have a live stream from Slovak channels where I am so I’m obviously saying what others have said already: Fico and Kiska.  

What I didn’t expect was the general strength of the others and the general weakness of Fico.  It’s going to be a very interesting two weeks because Kiska and Fico are separated by 4%, and together the candidates of anti-Fico parties (Prochazka, Hrusovsky, Knazko, Carnogursky, Bardos and Mezenska) have 45%.    

It won’t be quite that simple since voters of some of the anti-Fico candidates above will stay home, and Fico will turnout more voters next time.  But the range of additional turnout may not be that great: this time the turnout was almost identical to last time (around 43.6%) and in last times competitive second round it only rose by 12 percentage points.  Of course some of the voters who support the current non-Fico losing candiates will stay home, but with these results the anti-Fico forces might also smell blood and turn out to humilate their opponent.    It’s not at all impossible for Fico, but this is going to be much harder, I think, than many expected.

The next two weeks will see a very big test of the Fico turnout machine and media machine.  It’s going to be a race between Smer-turnout and Smer-negative ads against Kiska on the one side and Kiska’s soft support plus the existing parties on the other.  The question for the former will be “can we get out enough of our loyalists and sufficiently tarnish our opponents.  The question for the latter will be “do we dislike Fico enough to work for Kiska?” on the other side.  Given the likely strength of the former and weakness of the latter, Kiska would /need/ to have a head start to have a fighting chance.  With these results, he does.

Slovakia Presidential Election: The Fico Connundrum

Last week Jon Stewart got in trouble for mocking media commentators who might say things like “Slovakia’s president is a cow”.  This week, we have the news that its next president might be the current prime minister.  For those who know Slovakia’s constitutional system, this is perhaps even /less/ likely: why would why a politician at the top of his game–at the top of the game in the region–choose an ostensibly ceremonial presidency over his current position as prime-minister and party leader in a strong majority government.  Yet people close to Fico have for years been saying that he’d rather be president, so many of them, in fact, that it was hard to doubt the rumors had something behind them even while it was hard to imagine that Fico would actually do it.  As a result, however, I’ve been thinking about this for awhile and have a few thoughts below about why Fico might do this and why we should care (ranked to some degree in order of ascending probability).

I. For Fico other concerns trump power (possible, though surprising).  There are at least two reasons Fico might be willing to sacrifice power by moving to the presidency

A. Blackmail (probability unclear, but I certainly hope not).  There are persistent but ill-supported rumors that some “they” (primarily corporate interests) have information that could destroy Fico’s career and that they use this leverage in ways that he feels are overly limiting and may make him willing to take a less powerful position just to escape the sword of Damocles.  I am not a fan of conspiracy theories but that may only be because the kind of work I do depends on more or less transparent political systems and this would suggest that Slovakia is not in that category.

B. Health issues (possible, oft repeated).  There are occasional rumors of panic attacks and during his first term Fico certainly was not a model of health (and had the kinds of health problems that often indicate incredibly high stress levels).  This term has seemed, at least from my distant view, to be a healther one for him.  During the previous term there were consistent claims that “Fico doesn’t like the day-to-day fighting of politics (even if he is good at it), and that the presidency offered him a position of relative ease that he would be willing to accept at the expense of his ability to shape Slovakia’s destiny.

II. Fico does not believe this entails a loss of power (entirely possible).  There are several possible reasons for this.

A.  (Rather unlikely) He plans to change the current formal institutions to increase the power of the presidency: Fico’s party does not have a constitutional majority, and so this seems unlikely at the moment, and if this has a negative effect on Fico’s party, then it may be unlikely for the forseeable future, but it is at least theoretically possible

B. (Somewhat more likely) He plans to use the current formal institutions in ways that increase the power of the presidency.  Fico may believe that he can play a central role even if he is no longer prime minister.  As Milos Zeman has demonstrated most recently in the Czech Republic, presidents can be powerful even in systems where they are formally weak.  There are at least two possible paths to this:

  1. (Relatively unlikely but possible) Fico is willing to accept the decline of his party or even its splintering (some say because he sees it as inevitable, though I find this doubtful) and knows that the president becomes more important in a more chaotic party environment.  This would mean sacrificing what has been Fico’s most remarkable accomplishment: creation of a party that has had less defection than any major party in Slovakia’s history, even as it has become the biggest party in Slovakia’s history.  That’s not something that goes into the record books but for those in the know, it’s the World Cup of politics.
  2. (Relatively more likely) Fico thinks he can retain control of his party even as president.  There is no precedent for this in Slovakia but there are limited precedents in other countries.  It would be a bit of a challenge but Fico may be able to do it where others could not.  It would become a job change rather than a fundamental disruption to the system.  The maintenance of power could be enhanced by the odd little provision of Slovakia’s constitution that gives Slovakia’s president, “the right to be present at meetings of the Government of the Slovak Republic, to chair them, and to demand reports from the Government or its members.” (Art. 102r)  

It’s also possible that there is some combination of these or others that I am not imagining.  If Fico imagines the presidency to be a slightly easier job without a huge decrease in power, then his choice is less inexplicable.  Of course he may be wrong on both counts, especially the latter.

III. Finally, what follow-on questions does this raise:

  1. Can Fico win.  Yes.  It is hard to see him losing to the current crop of candidates, though these things are always potentially surprising.
  2. What happens to Smer?  This is /the/ question.  If II.B.2. above is correct then maybe not much, but he will need to impose a new model in which even as president he can still act as the decisive voice among factions within Smer.  He will need a kind of Medvedev-like servility from his successors in party and government.  Perhaps that’s the case.

Whatever the case, Slovakia continues to fail to be boring.

Czech Election Update: Statistical Roundup

A few thoughts continuing from yesterday:

First, in a post-election debate (the first I’ve ever seen and kudos to CTV for arranging it (it helps that polls close at 2 in the afternoon), the moderator asked various parties for their opinions about many things including coalition partners.  Here’s a list of the relevant answers:

  • Usvit: Nobody.  Will support anybody who supports a referendum law but will not go into government
  • ANO: No coalition but might consider ‘toleration’.  (But not of KSCM-CSSD, and unlikely for ODS-TOP09.  Would prefer to go law-by-law)
  • TOP09: CSSD but they don’t want us.  Will probably go into opposition.
  • ODS: Would go with TOP09 and KDU-CSL but there are not enough votes. Party will go into opposition
  • CSSD: Anybody except ODS and TOP09.  Would not be in minority government depending on Communist support.
  • KDU-CSL: Not with KSCM.  CSSD would be ok, or CSSD-ANO or Center-Right coalition.
  • KSCM: Happy to support or join government with CSSD.

This is like a hard SAT logic question and I need to draw it out, but if these statements are predictive (they may mean them now but leaders often change their minds on this kind of thing), then I think there is no actual answer for a majority government.  The best would be a minority government of CSSD-KDUCSL tolerated by ANO, though I suppose there is the mathematical possibility of a center-right government supported by ANO and Usvit.

A few numbers worth presenting (graphs to follow).  The first relates to various measures for determining the size of the Czech political party system.  By Czech standards this is a huge political party system.  And it is very evenly distributed (no single pole).  In fact the gap between the largest and smallest parties in parliament is a remarkably low 13.5%.

The second set relates to volatility–change in this election compared to the previous one.  Again, change this time is huge: 39%.  As huge as last time.   And it is evenly distributed between losses/gains among existing parties and entrants/exits of existing parties (about 19% each).

Finally a table on the use of the preference vote.  The last election in the Czech Republic saw an enormous increase in the use of votes for individual legislators (40 of 200 deputies elected on that basis if memory serves, an increase from 6 in the previous period).  This time it is not quite as high but it is still very big: 27 out of 200.  It is the parties with larger and more robust organizations that saw the biggest changes: ODS (also suffering from member rebellion), KDU-CSL  and KSCM (not suffering from member rebellion) and CSSD (whose voters don’t seem especially pleased with some of its elite).  Below these were the new and organizationally weak parties:  ANO (one of whose members was elevated beause he shared the name of the party founder), and TOP09, and Usvit (with exactly zero)

Party Preference vote winners %
CSSD 7 14%
ANO2011 5 11%
KSCM 6 18%
TOP09 2 8%
ODS 4 25%
Usvit 0 0%
KDU-CSL 3 21%

Source: Czech Statistical Office