Political Parties and Flying Cars (a brief and mostly irrelevant interlude)

One extremely belated note on Slovakia’s elections.  I was delighted in 2015 when my colleague and co-author Tim Haughton snapped this picture of a pre-pre-pre-election poster for the Slovak Civic Coalition SK-OK (Slovakia OK and also in acronym terms “JU-MP” or “LE-AP”):


Aside from the clever name pun, the interesting color scheme, the solid font, I was surprised to see the triumph of the hipster iconography in Slovakia’s politics: tablets, bikes, hats, beards, big round glasses.  (I shouldn’t be surprised in the current international media environment that there is an almost universal visual dictionary of hip, but it saddens me slightly to find it everywhere without much local or regional variation).  The most fascinating touch of all, however, is the flying car.  For years I’ve been a constant follower of Matt Novak’s Paleofuture blog (http://paleofuture.gizmodo.com/) and I’ve appreciated his sardonic take on each announcement that flying cars were just around the corner.  But I did not expect his blog to intersect so directly with my own.


In retrospect, I probably should not have been surprised.  The flying car has the same “I’m in on the joke” feel as the handlebar mustache and the panama hat.  It captures the “what’s old is new again, only now with more irony” aesthetic, and maybe even goes one further, since it refers to something that is not only very much “back then” but was then regarded as something to be expected around now, so there’s a kind of triple reflection: an unfulfilled present looking back with fondness at the sweet naïveté of somebody looking forward to something that would never come.  So flying cars are hip and can be a signal to voters that parties are hip to their hipness.  (As Novak points out, John Kasich in the US has also used the theme, though without a lot of conscious thought: http://paleofuture.gizmodo.com/john-kasich-is-the-only-candidate-bold-enough-to-promis-1764651805)

The other reason I should probably not be surprised to see this overlap is that one of the most visible contenders in the “flying car that nobody actually seems to want or need” race is the Slovak firm Aeromobil (http://www.aeromobil.com/) which has been testing an impressive looking product (pictured here in front of that other symbol of a mostly lost future, Mochovice nuclear power plant):



SKOK’s flying car image was always a bit of a risk.  AeroMobil 3.0 crashed on a test flight in May of 2015 (though thanks to the car parachute, the inventor surivived to continue his efforts).  SKOK, the party, had no parachute.  Despite a few polls that showed it at least potentially viable (MVK consistently put it around 3%, though other polling firms showed it closer to 1%), the party did not even manage to jump the one percent threshold, in the 2016 election, it’s 22,000 votes accounting for only 0.84% of those voting.   I haven’t yet seen polls that would tell me for sure, but it may be that the hipster vote went not to the flying car but to the guy with the carefully knotted scarf and red glasses and the ever so slightly ironic (given his own family history) name “We Are Family” (Sme Rodnia): Boris Kollar (seen here either flashing the victory symbol or putting something in quotes”)kollar

And then the question is whether, having gotten off the ground, SME Rodina stays up (like Smer-SD and, more recently, SAS and OLaNO) or follows the trajectory of previous new parties ZRS, ANO, and soon-to-be former-new party SIET).




A few thoughts on Slovakia’s marriage referendum 2015

There is almost no circumstance that has not been covered first by Monty Python. Take for example the cricket coverage of Episode 20:

[Cut to fast bowler. He bowls the ball but the batsman makes no move whatsoever. T
he ball passes the off stump.]
Jim … and no shot at all. Extremely well not played there.
Peter Yes, beautifully not done anything about.
Brian A superb shot of no kind whatsoever

Yesterday most residents of Slovakia did nothing about the referendum on gay marriage, gay adoption and sex/euthanasia education and it failed quite badly as a result.

This is not much of a surprise.  As the graph shows, the citizens of Slovakia do not have a strong track record for voting in what they perceive to be minor elections, particularly the European Union, regional governments and referendums.  (Their turnout rates for national parliament, president and local elections are, by contrast, passable, at least from an American perspective, which isn’t saying too much. And turnout rates for all elections have remained quite stable for the last decade).skturn2015

The turnout for referendums is traditionally not as low as for European elections but as the graph below shows, it has hovered between 20% and 30% (closer to 20) with three exceptions: the 1997 NATO referendum which was exceptionally low–because of allegations of ballot tampering (not just ordinary tampering but rather the omission of an entire question by the Ministry of the Interior), the 1998 privatization referendum which occurred at the same time as the 1998 parliamentary election (and still did not reach the magic participation point of 50% even though overall election turnout was in the 80’s) and the 2004 European union referendum (which just barely managed 50% turnout even though most government  and opposition figures supported it and the stakes were extremely high). Into this environment stepped Slovakia’s Alliance for the Family (Aliancia za rodinu) with a referendum proposal (four questions, reduced to three by the Constitutional Court) for which it gathered over 400,000 signatures (almost all of them ultimately found to be valid, yielding well in excess of the 350,000 minimum).  The politics of gay marriage and gay rights in Slovakia I will not get into here, nor will I attempt to speculate whether the organizers thought they could actually overcome the 50% referendum hurdle or merely saw this in as a way to gain attention, identify supporters and force leaders to commit themselves one way or another.

Slovakia Referendum 2015 turnout

Source: http://www.politicaldatayearbook.com/Chart.aspx/38/Slovakia, download data here: http://bit.ly/pdyi_slovakiadata . See http://is.muni.cz/th/103226/fss_m/Diplomova_praca.txt for a good summary of Slovakia’s referendum history.

The actual turnout, 21.4%, ranks this referendum 5th out of the 8 in Slovakia’s post-1989 history, just below the 2010 reform referendum and just above referendums on privatization and early elections from more than a decade ago.  The actual share of “Yes” votes on the marriage question, 95.8% gave the marriage referendum the fourth highest positive share of the 14 valid referendum questions asked in Slovakia since 1989.  The adoption referendum received 94.3% support, for 6th place, and the sex/euthanasia referendum received 92.6% for 8th place.

Combining the low turnout with the high levels of support yields tells us the total number willing to turn out to support the topics of the referendum.  In the case of the 2015 referendum, this ranged from 0.202 supporters per registered voter for the marriage question (7th highest of the 14 questions), 0.198 for adoption (9th highest), and 0.193 (10th highest) for sex education.  The overall share of total supporters per voter was quite similar to that of the 6 reform questions introduced by the party Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) in 2010, which ranged between 0.161 and 0.218.  In this case, however, it is not clear that the real number of active supporters is quite so low: by contrast to the reform referendum of 2010 and other referendum questions, the 2015 referendum had to contend with worse weather and also with some degree of apathy about turning out to vote for a core policy demand (forbidding gay marriage) that had already found its way into Slovakia’s constitutional law earlier in the year.

Slovakia Referendum 2015 yes votesI find it useful to think about the turnout level in its geographical and temporal patterns as well.  As a battle of “turn-out” or “stay home” rather than “yes” versus “no, the spatial distribution of turnout may say more about regional support than does the actual vote margin.  The Slovak Statistical Office map shows a gentle gradient of support from highest levels in the north and east to much lower levels in the south and east, a near-perfect inversion of the 2001 census map (the only one I can easily find) of non-believers.


Turnout in the 2015 Referendum (darker is higher turnout).  Source: Slovak Statistical Office, http://www.statistics.sk

Subregions by share of non-believers (lighter=more believers). Source: http://www.unipo.sk/public/media/14066/peregrinus%20cracoviensis%2013.pdf

I took this opportunity to do something I’d never done before and compare levels of turnout by sub-regions and found some moderately surprising results:

Correlations between subregional voting patterns, by election in Slovakia 2010-2015

Correlations between subregional voting patterns, by election in Slovakia 2010-2015.  Red indicates more positive correlations, blue more negative correlations.  Depth of color indicates higher correlation strength.

Turnout patterns in the 2015 referendum most closely resemble the recent 2014 local elections and are quite different from those of the 2010 referendum–another turnout-based vote, but in this case one supported by the urban, secular SaS.  I haven’t taken time to dig any deeper, but I am struck at the correlation between that 2010 referendum, the 2012 parliamentary election, the 2014 European Parliament election and especially the 2014 presidential election.  This needs some more explanation.  I suspect that Vladimir Krivy would do it (or has done it already–I need to check.)


“The correlation is about this big.” (Vladimir Krivy knows all.)

Unlike the situation in Slovakia, a referendum forbidding gay marriage succeeded in 2013 in Croatia by a 2-to-1 margin with 38% turnout, but differences in strategy around the referendum law obscure a fairly high degree of underlying similarity.  Because Croatia does not have a minimum turnout requirement, opponents were forced to mobilize “no” voters rather than to encourage them to stay at home.  The resulting opposition boosted turnout above Slovakia’s levels, but not enough to sink the referendum.  The marginal turnout and significant-but-not-enormous share of “yes” voters meant that the clear win for Croatia’s referendum resulted from with only 24.96% of the total electorate, just 5 percentage points more than in Slovakia.  In a slightly different institutional environment, it is possible to imagine either of these referendums coming out quite differently.

Finally, a few haphazard notes about political parties and this referendum.  While it is nice to see that the Slovak National Party and the Party of the Hungarian Community have something in common, I am not sure that their shared support for this referendum is something that will bring them together on other issues or will lead to a more peaceful Slovakia.  I’m also not sure that this was the finest moment for many politicians except to the extent that it demonstrated their ability to dance around issues that they did not want to address directly (Question: “Are you voting for this referendum?” Answer: “I am voting in accord with my long personal history of supporting Slovaks and their families.” Question: “Yes, but…”  Answer: “Seeing that there are no other questions…”).  I have to admit being surprised by Radoslav Prochazka’s comment on the adoption question that “It is better for children to be in any household where people get along than in an orphange („podľa presvedčenia, že deťom je lepšie v akejkoľvek domácnosti, kde sa ľudia majú radi, ako v detskom domove“).  On a personal level–a place I have not usually gone with this blog–I would only prefer that he could have stopped at “along” and acknowledge the absolute rather than the relative value of a loving home, regardless of parents’ genders.

"Daddy, why is that man following us?"

“Daddy, why is that man following us?”

Slovakia Voter’s Guide, Part II

2010 Slovakia Voter’s Guide.

Four years ago in preparation for the 2010 elections, I came up with an (intentionally) simplified voter’s guide for Slovakia, designed as a flowchart.  No elections are coming up (unless Fico is serious about calling new elections, which I doubt but can’t rule out) but Ben Stanley did such an amazing job with a guide for Poland’s upcoming election in the Why We Study Eastern Europe facebook page) that I wanted to try again.

Poland Voter's Guide, Ben Stanley 2014

Poland Voter’s Guide, Ben Stanley 2014

It has been only four years but circumstances are already different.  One party from the 2010 chart is formally gone–HZDS–and several others are in significant decline–SDKU, SaS–and we are seeing an amazing proliferation of entrants (a sort of “Hundred Flowers” campaign, only for parties).  The new chart highlights that newness in a way that is perhaps more biting than I intended, but /is/ remarkable to see one part of the political landscape of any country so divided.  Slovakia’s “right” (by which I mean non-nationalist, non-Hungarian, non-Fico parties) is split up among more parties than the entire Swedish parliament and it has the same adjusted party system size (over 5.0 according to the Taagipera and Laakso formula), and more seem to be popping up every week.

This must be a prelude to some sort of consolidation but if it doesn’t happen /before/ the election, then Slovakia’s right will (again) give away its chance to triumph over Robert Fico.  Even if the right doesn’t lose its necessary margin to small parties, it will face problems: according to FOCUS’s most recent poll, the right and Hungarians could scrape together a majority only if all five elected parties joined together.  The last so-called “zlepenec” coalition had only four (with a fifth one inside, to be sure) and lasted less than two years..  No wonder that some say KDH is thinking seriously about a coalition with Fico.  Or that new parties keep popping up to try to unify the right under /their/ banner.  Alas, the result is usually simply more fragmentation (see xkcd.com: http://imgs.xkcd.com/comics/standards.png).

So with all that buildup, here’s the chart.  And here it is in PDF: slovakia voting flowchart 2014 portrait

slovakia voting flowchart 2014 portrait_sm


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
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 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 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 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.

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.

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 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.

Found Art! Enter to win in the “Gerryvision 2011” Drawing Contest

Those who would criticize American art as sterile and commercialized have obviously not familiarized themselves with the art of Congressional district boundary drawing which, like certain kinds of locust, flourishes once every decade (sometimes more often in Texas), feeding on census data and political desire.  And this year local Michigan artists have done their state proud with some remarkable work.  The beauty of these creations is often lost in a jumble of shapes and colors when they appear together on the same page:

And so I would like to take this opportunity to present them as separate designs, each beautiful in its own right.  Ladies and gentlemen, the 9th, 11th, 13th and 14th Congressional districts of the state of Michigan:

Draw your own and win!

These shapes are not only remarkable for their raw beauty and complexity but also for the way in which they are open to interpretation.  Indeed perhaps the most exciting part of this American artistic tradition is the degree to which it  invites viewer participation.  And just as commentators compared one of Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry’s 1812 districts as a “salamander” and drew a famous cartoon to illustrate, so all Americans are entitled to offer words and pictures to describe their new districts, so I ask all Pozorblog readers to do the same.   Take District 14 for example.  Look at it from all sides:

Is it a frog?  a giraffe riding a motorcycle? Elvis?  You decide and then send it here so that it can be posted for the world to see.  And if you do it soon, there’s something in it for you (in a sense):

Gerryvision 2011

The process is simple:

  1. Download one or all of the maps below in pdf or jpg format
  2. Look at it long and hard, rotate it, squint at it or do anything else that will help you to divine its true shape.
  3. Mark up the graphic to show what you have in mind.  Feel free to print it out and draw on it
  4. Take a picture or scan it in and send it here: pozorblog@gmail.com by midnight on Friday, October 21.  Submit as many as you want!

Entries will be judged by an expert jury of experts in electoral rules (i.e. the students of my PS4710 course on “Democracy”) who.  The winner will receive $10 donated in her/his name to the charity of her/his choice.

Here are the maps.  Go ahead and join the American artistic-political tradition!

Click the pictures below for graphic files or click here for a .pdf of all four
The 9th The 11th The 13th The 14th

As they used to say (and maybe still do), you can’t win if you don’t enter.

2010 Slovak Parliamentary Elections: Post-Election Report

Note: Thanks to The Monkey Cage for allowing me to reprint the posting below.  I’ve added several graphs that might help to clarify the narrative.

One month after its June 12 elections, Slovakia has a new government. On Friday of last week Iveta Radicova of the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union became the prime minister of a coalition government consisting of four parties with pro-market orientations and relatively moderate views on intra-ethnic cooperation between Slovaks and Hungarians, replacing a coalition of three economically statist parties oriented around the Slovak nation. The new government, and the elections that brought it about, mark two significant “firsts” and a number of other changes that will be important for the region.

Two Firsts

Slovakia's incoming premier, Iveta Radicova

The first “first” for Slovakia is a female prime minister, a particularly noteworthy development because Slovakia has never had a particularly strong representation of women in positions of power. Slovakia differs little from its neighbors in this regard: the Visegrad Four—a regional grouping consisting of Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary—has had only one other female prime minister in the last 20 years (Poland’s Hanna Suchocka in the early 1990’s) and although several of the other countries in the region have had female presidents (Latvia) or Prime Ministers (Lithuania and Bulgaria) women still remain the exception in postcommunist European politics. Indeed the incoming government of the Czech Republic may have no women at all, and despite Radicova’s control of the premiership, her own government will have only one other woman, and Slovakia’s new parliament actually has fewer female deputies than it did four years ago.

Slovakia's outgoing premier, Robert Fico

The other “first” is more subtle and involves the comparatively brief tenure of the outgoing Prime Minister, Robert Fico. In Slovakia’s first eight years of postcommunism the premiership was dominated by Vladimir Meciar, twice removed by parliament but twice returned by voters; in the next eight years, the seat was occupied without a break by Mikulas Dzurinda. By this standard, Fico is the first elected prime minister in Slovakia whom voters did not immediately reward with a second chance at government. There are several reasons why this might be so. One reason, largely outside the political realm,involves the economic difficulties faced by Slovakia’s export-dependent economy in 2009, an effect exacerbated by the tendencies of voters in postcommunist countries to punish incumbents for whatever might go wrong, a phenomenon that Andrew Roberts of Northwestern describes in terms of hyperaccountability . A more “political” explanation attributes the fall of Fico’s government to voter distaste for a long series of scandals involving government ministers. Both explanations have some purchase, but they need to be understood in the context of intra-party dynamics which I discuss in the next section. Those readers who would prefer dental surgery to a tedious discussion of Slovakia’s intra-party dynamics may skip down to the section “Why should we care” below.

A Tedious Discussion of Slovakia’s Intra-Party Dynamics

How we understand Slovakia’s political shift over the last four years depends heavily on what we are looking for. Analysis tends to settle at one of three levels, all of which have some claim to the truth, provided that we understand the context.

Level one: Right coalition wins, left coalition loses

The most superficial (but not unimportant) level of analysis looks at coalitions and oppositions and involves a one-dimensional space. In this space, the 2010 elections represent the handover of power from “left” to “right” and involve a swing of 7 seats in Slovakia’s 150 seat parliament from Fico’s coalition to Radicova’s. (Fico’s coalition dropped from 85 seats in 2006 to 71 in 2010) . For the purposes of governing, this makes all the difference. But it helps to go deeper.

Dimension 1: Changes in relative coalition size. Red represents the Fico-led coalition; Blue represents the Dzurinda/Radicova-led coalition

Level two: Left and right parties gain, Slovak national parties lose

The second level of analysis looks at parties and involves a two dimensional space. In addition to the left-right axis of competition that has dominated Slovakia’s governments in the last 10 years, there is a clear competitive axis related to national questions, and two additional blocs of parties that I have labeled “Slovak national” and “Hungarian national.” According to this framework, Fico’s government represented a coalition between “anti-market left” and “Slovak national” whereas the Radicova government (like the Dzurinda government that preceded Fico before 2006) is a coalition between “pro-market right” and “Hungarian national.”

Analysis of election results according to these blocs produces a rather different set of judgments. Although the total vote share of “right” parties of the incoming government increased by five percentage points from 2006 to 2010, the vote share of the “left” party in the outgoing government—Fico’s “Direction”—increased by even more. Corresponding to the gains by both left and right were major losses in the “Slovak national” bloc: the Slovak National Party under Jan Slota fell catastrophically from 12% to 5%, squeaking over the barrier for parliamentary representation by just two thousand votes out of two-and-a-half million cast, and Vladimir Meciar, once the sun and the moon of Slovakia’s politics, continued a remarkably long gradual slide into obscurity, falling below the barrier and out of parliament altogether. Like Jaroslav Kaczynski in Poland in 2007, Fico can therefore justifiably claim not he, but his partners lost the election (though Meciar has publicly suggested that having undermined his partners to maximize his own party’s gain, Fico deserves his fate). This begs the question, however, of exactly where the “Slovak national” voters went and why.

Dimension 2: Changes in relative bloc size. 2010 figure indicates lost seats in light grey and gained seats in deeper colors.

Level three: Slovak national voters move left, anti-corruption voters move right (for now)

A third level of analysis is necessary to solve the “mystery of the shifting Slovak national party voter.” The third level looks at voters motivations and involves a space with (at least) three dimensions. It also involves speculation on the basis of very little data. What is apparent from two opinion polls conducted before the election is that the exodus of voters from Slovak national parties was not distributed evenly to left and right. In fact, nearly all of it went to the left, mainly to Fico’s “Direction.” For the math to work out, however, this must mean that some of Fico’s voters went elsewhere as well, and the poll evidence suggests that at least some of them went to the new right party Freedom and Solidarity.

These shifts are hard to explain with only two dimensions, particularly the shift from Fico’s statist left party to the and to the most vehemently pro-market right party in the system. At the risk of sounding a bit too much like Rod Serling it is here that our analysis needs a new dimension, one that arrays voters according to their willingness to tolerate corruption and seek ability of established leaders to resolve problems. (I’ve argued elsewhere with Tim Haughton that this dimension is hard to identify because its players change sides: the anti-corruption party of one election may become the corrupt but experienced party of the next election.) By adding this dimension we can make sense of a voter’s jump from “Direction,” which in 2002 and 2006 attracted a significant share of the anti-corruption electorate, to the new and yet-to-be-corrupted Freedom and Solidarity (but which otherwise shares almost no programmatic positions with Fico’s “Direction.”) Corruption sensitivity may also explain much of the shift from the two Slovak national parties to the by-no-means-clean but still less corrupt “Direction,” a shift which is less surprising because Fico had already gone quite far in adopting Slovak national themes. (It also probably explains some of the shift within the Hungarian electorate from the more established of two Hungarian parties to its newcomer alternative.)

Slovakia’s political shift in 2010 thus reflects not a fundamental shift from left and right but only a left-to-right shift in the votes of those most highly sensitive to corruption, a shift that is likely to endure only until the emergence of a new anti-corruption party (perhaps left, perhaps right, perhaps Slovak national) in a future election cycle. Nor does it reflect a fundamental decline in the strength of the Slovak national position but rather a shift of Slovak national voters from the smaller parties with stronger emphasis on national questions to Fico’s larger and more diffuse but sufficiently national alternative. Whether that shift will endure depends on the emergence of a new national alternative, either through the formation of a new party or the reformation of the Slovak National Party.

Dimension 3: Shift of most "corruption intolerant" from SNS and HZDS to Smer (brown arrow) and Smer to SaS (orange arrow). Shifts also occurred within the "right" (from SDKU to SaS) and within the Hungarian national (from MKP-SMK to Most-Hid) but for simplicity's sake those are not shown here.

Why We Should Care

Those who look occasionally at Slovakia can be excused for experiencing a bit of déjà vu. The names of the some parties have changed slightly from the 2002 Dzurinda government, but the names are about the only change. Substitute one Hungarian party for another (“Bridge” for the Party of the Hungarian Coalition), and one new pro-market anti-corruption for another (“Freedom and Solidarity” for the now defunct Alliance of the New Citizen) and the array is pretty much the same. Not only that, but ten of the fifteen cabinet posts are in the hands of the same party that controlled it in 2002 (or its analog) and seven of the fifteen ministers served in the 2002-2006 cabinet (sometimes heading the same ministry). Although the government is the nearly the same, however, the times are different and it will face new challenges.

Economics: Renewed but limited pro-market reform

The 2002-2006 Dzurinda government used its small majority to pass major economic reforms in taxation, health care, education, the labor market and other aspects of the foreign investment climate. The restoration of essentially the same coalition could potentially signal the continuation of major reforms, but by the same token, the magnitude of the shifts between 2002 and 2006 (and the relatively minor rollbacks introduced by the Fico government between 2006 and 2010) may limit the scope for further changes which would push the government’s policy significantly out ahead of the voters’ preferences (especially since I would argue that many of those who supported “Freedom and Solidarity” did so for its novelty and cleanliness rather than its radically pro-market approach.)

Minority and foreign policy: Back to the West, but not without reservation

Although economic questions are the ones that most clearly unite Slovakia’s new coalition, the parties also share a common pro-Western outlook and (relatively) accommodating views on ethnic co-existence and national identity. And since such questions are arguably more sensitive to tone and manner than economic policy, it may be in this realm that the new coalition has its greatest impact on Slovakia and the region. But even this will not be easy. There is still a wide gap between the Hungarian party, “Bridge,” and the its Slovak partners in government on what constitutes appropriate support for minority culture, and the Slovak parties in the coalition cannot risk appearing weak when dealing with the assertively national government in neighboring Hungary. Nor will relations with the rest of the EU be easy, especially since the parties of the current coalition, in an reversal that had more to do with domestic electoral politics than programmatic position, campaigned on a platform of rejecting the EU bailout of Greece and must now figure out how to back down gracefully without appearing to have caved in.

Coalition longevity: Sensitive issues, numerous factions but few alternatives

In addition to “Freedom and Solidarity’s” outlying position on economic issues, and “Bridge’s” outlying position on minority policy, the coalition will also need to deal with the outlying cultural policy preferences of the Christian Democrats (who have already introduced questions about an agreement with the Vatican and who differ sharply from “Freedom and Solidarity” on questions such as gay marriage and drug legalization.) And all of the major coalition partners will need to deal with two smaller groups that entered parliament on the basis of preference voting on the electoral lists of the two new parties: a civic movement called “Ordinary People” which gained election on the list of “Freedom and Direction” (preference votes elevating its representative from the last four places on the list to near the top), and the Civic Conservative Party which gained election on the list of Bridge.
These complications together raise questions about the longevity of what is in effect a six-entity coalition that cannot afford to lose even four of its seventy-nine deputies without also losing its majority. Slovaks are themselves quite divided over the coalition’s prospects, though the opinions tend to reflect partisan hopes rather than measured assessments. The survival of the 2002-2006 Dzurinda government for nearly four years bodes well, but that coalition could rely on Meciar’s relatively weak party to offer tacit support. The Radicova’s coalition, by contrast, has fewer potential reservoirs in the opposition and correspondingly less ability to deal with defections. That said, the coalition’s members also have correspondingly fewer options and may stay in a coalition because it is the only alternative. (Since no female prime minister in postcommunist Europe has ever served out a full parliamentary term, Radicova has the chance to achieve yet another first, though Jadranka Kosor in Croatia has the chance to outlast her in terms of pure longevity)

Opposition prospects: Fico’s burden

Given the large number of potential stumbling blocks for the governing coalition, the next several years in opposition may bring “Direction” strong poll support. The prospects for the Fico’s return to government, however, depend on his ability to open up new coalition possibilities while maintaining the integrity of his party. Whether Fico undermined his coalition partners or not, it is fair to say that he did not do a good job of preparing for the weakness of those parties. Fico’s use of good vs. evil rhetoric to characterize the opposition may have helped at the polls, but it significantly weakened his leverage in prying apart the opposition parties and finding a coalition partner or two among their ranks. Unable to count on the return of Meciar or the resurgence of the Slovak National Party, Fico will need to figure out how to fight a good fight in opposition while at the same time preparing for a potential alliance with some of the coalition partners. And he will have to do so while satisfying the diverse constituencies within his own party—which range from nationalist to cultural liberal, from statist to entrepreneurial—and do so without the perks of government. He managed this well between 2002 and 2006, but it may be harder to do so with a parliamentary delegation that is both larger and more reliant on the resources of the executive.

The big picture: Right and new

Slovakia, like Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, has elected a “right” wing government (fulfilling Joshua Tucker’s June 9 prediction in the Monkey Cage ), but the meaning of “right” varies considerably from nationalism and cultural conservatism in Hungary (combined with some remarkably statist efforts in economic policy) to its pro-market meaning in the Czech Republic (along with some cultural conservatism) to the pro-market and culturally (relatively) liberal combination that has emerged in Poland (where both the major alternatives claim the “right” label) and in Slovakia. In the long run, Slovakia is likely to see the alteration of the two main streams—statist and national against pro-market and ethnically accommodating—but the nature of the balance will be continually subject to readjustment brought about by the birth of new parties and the death of others. The “new” rather than the “right” may be the real story of recent elections throughout the region, and come the next election cycle, the “new” is more likely to be left or national.

Czech Election Update: The Election in Pictures

No major news that I want to blog about today–or more precisely nothing that I have time to address–but I wanted to post two pictures from Prague sent to me by friend and Fulbright colleague Andrew Yurkovsky.  The first is technically not an election photo–he took it during the World Hockey Championship final–but it captures something very important.  The second captures someone very important.

Ma vlast, by Andrew Yurkovsky, Prague 2010

Admiral, by Andrew Yurkovsky

Admiral, by Andrew Yurkovsky, Prague 2010

Guest Blogger: Tim Haughton on Slovak Electoral Politics, Part I

More from wide-ranging Tim Haughton, who this time sacrificed dry feet to bring a full report of Tuesday’s political campaigning in Slovakia and showed his political acumen and intrepidity by going not to Bratislava, where everybody goes, but rather to Kosice.

How to Win Votes and Influence People – Some Reflections from Slovakia

Tim Haughton, University of Birmingham

It’s a question which excites and perplexes scholars and practioners alike: what kind of campaigning really works? How best can a political party spend its time and money to attract and hang on to the support of voters?

With the Czech vote behind us, I decide to head to the other half of the federation, where as all readers of this blog know, the Slovaks are gearing up for their elections. Opening the curtains of the sleeper carriage as the train pulls into Kosice station, I am greeted by the beaming smile of Vladimir Meciar, the three-time prime minister of Slovakia. His billboard promises ‘hovorit Pravdu, dat Pracu a urobit Poriadok’ [speak the truth, create jobs and ensure order].

The three Ps are capitalized, reminding me of Public Private Partnerships. Critics of Meciar’s time as prime minister (and indeed his party’s participation in the current government) might suggest that such PPP arrangements are about taking from the state to give to those near and dear to his party. A lucrative and successful partnership for some, but not for the coffers of the Slovak state. As readers of this blog know, Meciar’s People’s Party-Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (LS-HZDS), once Slovakia’s most successful electoral machine is in danger of falling below the 5% threshold. Perhaps to counter the widespread view that the party is a group of silver and grey-haired Meciar devotees, another poster at Kosice station depicts a large group of smiling twentysomethings, declaring that ‘And the young vote LS-HZDS’. Somehow I’m not convinced we will see a rush of first time voters racing to the polling stations to cast their votes for Meciar. The major challenge for Meciar’s party is to convince voters that it makes sense to support the party on 12 June. The party may still have brand recognition and one of the iconic figures in Slovak politics, but it looks and feels like a party well beyond its shelf-life which seems to have lost its raison d’etre.

The area around the station is full of billboards. Amongst those of the centre-right Slovak Democratic and Christian Union – Democratic Party (SDKU-DS) and the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) are several of the Slovak National Party (SNS). SNS’s pitch to voters is to pluck at xenophobic and nationalist heart strings. Whilst one of the billboards declares the party’s desire to ensure ‘that our borders remain our borders’ (a clear criticism of the big neighbour to the south), another wants to ensure ‘we don’t feed those who don’t want to work’ underneath a picture of a large, heavily tattooed Roma. Given Presov’s large Roma minority, this is a poster which sadly might be quite effective.

On arriving at the station I endulge in my usual ritual of buying a range of different newspapers. The leading Slovak paper, Sme, is running a story on the recent TV clash between Prime Minister Robert Fico and the head of the SDKU-DS electoral list, Iveta Radicova. It doesn’t make happy reading for the latter (the majority thought Fico had won), but I wonder how much influence these duels really have. Having watched both British and Czech ‘prime ministerial debates’ in recent weeks, I’m reminded that they can generate plenty of press coverage, can seem to have changed the political landscape, but ultimately – in the British case in particular – may have had little impact. In the Czech case if they had any impact it may have been to persuade some undecided voters not to vote for either Necas or Paroubek.

Elsewhere the papers are full of comments reflecting on the impact of the Czech results on the Slovak elections, most of which miss the key factors. For my money, three points are worth stressing. Firstly, electoral thresholds matter and can consign an evergreen (no not the greens, but KDU-CSL) to life outside parliament. The fact that nothing is sacred and that even long-standing parties with seemingly loyal support bases can fail, is a lesson some Slovak parties will need to take on board. Secondly, CSSD’s disappointing result and Paroubek’s departure must have had a sobering effect on Fico. The combative party leader was Fico’s closest international partner who enthusiastically backed Fico in the 2006 election. He has been more than just a political ally as Fico’s attendance at Paroubek’s wedding (in the role of a witness if memory serves correctly) highlights. Thirdly, it has given a filip to the centre-right. ‘If it possible for the assorted forces of the right to defeat what they like to label “lefist populism” in the Czech Republic, then why not here’ , they proclaim?

After checking into my Kosice hotel I head back to the station to take the train to Presov. After having bought my ticket to Presov and a ticket for the sleeper back to Prague, I notice on the back of the ticket to Presov an SNS advert replete with a picture of the old-new party leader Jan Slota and his one-time successor and now predecessor as party leader Anna Belousovova. Moreover, on the back of the ticket sleeve for my ticket and sleeper reservation is an advert for Bela Bugar’s Most-HID party. These both strike me as clever strategies on the part of the parties. Unlike other campaigning materials voters are given, a train ticket is not heading straight for the rubbish bin and perhaps will be looked at more than one during the journey. Smer-SD activists have also been at work. The slow train from Kosice to Presov may not be a glamourous place to campaign, but a party supporter has clearly been hard at work and has left campaign literature material on each of the little tables next to the windows.

The desire to visit Presov is dictated not by a desire to leave Kosice, but to attend an SDKU-DS political meeting where all the party’s stars and wannbe bigwigs are scheduled to attend. Thanks to the inclement weather the outdoor meeting doesn’t begin as planned at 16:00, nonetheless, campaigning doesn’t stop. Decked out in blue waterproofs young activists distribute party material and in a clever touch reminding Slovaks that their team will play in the World Cup starting in a few days time, they give out a red card like the one used by football referees reminding voters to give Fico a ‘red card’ at the election. It is also fascinating to observe how the different politicians behave. Many of the less well-known politicians use the opportunity to circulate and give the waiting crowd their own electoral material. Thanks to the open lists, the possibility of preference voting means that it is important for these candidates not just to encourage citizens to vote for the party, but they need to plug themselves as well, especially if they are well down on the party list. Whatever the merits of such big rallies for the parties as a whole, they are valuable opportunities for wannabe parliamentarians.

Once the meeting starts it follows a clear script designed to build-up to a climax, blending music and speeches. The best speech of the night is given by former PM Mikulas Dzurinda. If a party funding scandal hadn’t forced him to step down as leader of the party list, he would be the most likely alternative to Fico as PM. Dzurinda delivers his five minute speech with gusto, reminding the audience of his governments’ successes, berating Fico for his mistakes, pointing to the success of the centre-right in the Czech Republic and imploring the good citizens of Presov to get out and vote on 12 June.

Tony Blair’s press guru Alistair Campbell and the spinmeister supreme Peter Mandelson were always keen on making sure all the details are correct, acutely aware of the importance of image and symbols. The SDKU-DS leadership, however, have clearly not studied the New Labour handbook. Indeed, I’m surprised by the little slip-ups in SDKU-DS’s otherwise well-presented (and apart from the late start) slick rally. Two of the slips are made by the two bands providing the music. One plays the riff from Bowie and Queen’s ‘Under pressure’ as they warm up. Well, maybe only I noticed that, but during the performance one band plays Bryan Adams’ ‘the summer of 69’. I’m not sure how many of the audience were paying that much attention, but surely a song which describes 1969 as the ‘best days of my life’ isn’t really an appropriate one in the former Czechslovakia. It might have been the ‘best days of my life’ if one’s name was Gustav Husak, but post-68 Czechoslovakia under normalization wasn’t for most Slovaks.

The other attention to detail seemingly missed by the organizers was the exact location of the stand. Whilst it is opposite one of the busiest bus stops in the city and a Tesco supermarket, it is right in front of the town’s main theatre where they are showing a performance of ‘Marie Antoinette’. As I see former finance minister Ivan Miklos and social affairs minister Ludovit Kanik (who introduced the tough neo-liberal welfare reforms during the last SDKU-DS-led government) standing next to the stage all I can think of is the former French Queen’s infamous line to the masses of Paris ‘Let them eat cake’. Perhaps I am reading to much into these observations, but anyone with a good camera and video recorder could at least use the images to poke some fun at SDKU-DS.

By the time Iveta Radicova speaks it is already over two and a half hours since the event was supposed to start and the rain has been almost unceasing. The water has seeped through the fabric of my shoes and has made my feet all wet. After a few words from the woman who could be prime minister in a few weeks time, all of the party candidates assemble on stage for the grand finale> a rousing rendition of the campaign song ‘Modra je dobra’ (‘Blue is Good’). It’s a great song, originally recorded by the Czech band ‘Zluty pes’, but after so long standing in the rain with soaking socks all I think about is that maybe ‘Modra je dobra, ale mokra nie je’.

Guest Blogger: Tim Haughton on Czech Electoral Politics

The smiling gentleman pictured here–Tim Haughton of the University of Birmingham–is not a blogger, but he should be, and so I have pressured him into sharing his impressions of electoral politics in the Czech Republic in the run-up to today’s election.  I have the good fortune not only to profit from Tim’s insightful analysis of European politics on an almost daily basis but also to be able to call him a close friend.  With less than an hour to go before we get the results, I want to share his first-hand observations of the Czech political scene in Prague on the ground level on the last day of campaigning, a piece that is not only astute but also beautifully evocative of the city from which he is writing.

City of Angels: Impressions of the Czech Election Campaign

Tim Haughton, University of Birmingham

There are two rules for political scientists studying an election in another country: don’t just visit the capital and try not to rely on your closest contacts. Although I’ve fallen into both traps, in response to Kevin’s request for a post for his excellent pozorblog, here are a few impressions.

Thanks to the timing of my students’ exams, piles of undergraduate dissertations to mark and other exciting administrative tasks, I arrived in the Czech Republic late on Wednesday with just one day of campaigning to go. As my wife is a native of Prague the first duty (and pleasure) whenever we visit the Czech Republic is to meet up with the family. In a local watering-hole in the shadow of the Staropramen brewery, with the golden beer quenching our thirst, the debate begins.

My wife’s family all enthusiastically jangled their keys in November 1989 welcoming the end of communist rule. They swung behind Klaus and the Civic Democratic Party (ODS) in the early 1990s keen to see rapid marketization, democratization and a ‘return to Europe’, but as the decade progresses they became increasingly disenchanted by Klaus’s arrogance and the corruption, lies and incompetence of ODS, not just at the national level, but also in the capital where the party has (mis)ruled since the early 1990s. Twenty years after the first time they cast their votes in a free election, they remain largely undecided about whom to vote for this time.

One member of the family is set on voting for the Greens. The party entered parliament in 2006 and became a member of the Topolanek government, but has haemorraged support in the past couple of years and if the polls are to be believed will fall well below the 5% threshold. The support of former president and iconic figure Vaclav Havel maybe doesn’t count for much in Czech politics anymore, but he does offer a sign of where some of the moral, upstanding people may remain in Czech politics.

Another member of the family is inclined to support TOP ’09, a relatively new party formed as the name suggests last year. The centre-right party which offers tradition (‘T’), responsibility (‘O’) and prosperity (‘P’) has at its head Karel Schwarzenberg. The former Foreign Minister (nominated by the Greens to the Topolanek government) is a popular figure who appears everywhere in the TOP 09 material. ‘I am voting for the prince’ declares the family member rather than mentioning the name of the party. The avuncular aristocrat may speak an odd version of Czech betraying his roots and long exile in Austria during communist rule, but he is trusted, not just thanks to his experience and skills, but because he is not afflicted by the disease of Czech politics: corruption.

‘How can you vote for TOP ’09 declares another member of the family? Schwarzenberg maybe a great figures, but ‘what about [Miroslav] Kalousek’. The creator of the new party who shrewdly persuaded Schwarzenberg to join may have been a relatively successful finance minister, but his career is not free from the strains of corruption and dirty dealing. Kalousek – just like leading figures in ODS such as Prague major Pavel Bem and former Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek – is far from being an angel.

All member of the family dislike the Communists with a vengeance and have little sympathy for Jiri Paroubek the leader of the most popular party in the Czech Republic, the Social Democrats (CSSD). Paroubek may have given a very positive impression in CSSD’s party political broadcast as he spoke in glowing terms about his country and vision for the future but put him in a media studio and out comes the street fighter. In the car from the airport my mother-in-law recounts in great detail the insults Paroubek and ODS leader Petr Necas traded during the latest radio debate.
One other round the table is tempted to go for Christian Democratic People’s Party (KDU-CSL). The party lost many prominent members and support when Kalousek left the party to form TOP ’09. The party’s old-new leader Cyril Svoboda is one of the great survivors of Czech politics who has held office in governments led by the left and the right and has not been stained by a major corruption scandal. His moderate, Christian, pro-European stance isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but even those enthused to vote KDU-CSL recognize the possibility that the party won’t cross the threshold and will hence be a wasted vote.

Where else to head this morning in the city of such whiter than white politicians than ‘Andel’ (angel)? In fact I spent most of the day travelling between Andel and Republic Square. ODS is the dominant party in Prague with strong levels of support. The party offers the best pre-election meeting at least for the hungry and thirsty. The smell of sausages and draught beer entices many of the shoppers to stop and listen to the music and collect the party’s material. Elsewhere on the street young, pretty Czech girls decked out in blue T-shirts (the party’s colour) hand out bags of party material to all who come within range.

Just along the road is a small CSSD stall. It doesn’t compete in size with the ODS, but it does offer a fuller bag of goodies including a book written by the party’s Prague bigwig, Peter Hulinsky, and has the clever idea of handing out orange roses – a smart way to get the romantic vote. Even if orange is a slightly odd colour for roses (unlike the party’s sister parties abroad CSSD adopted the colour orange thanks to the advice of marketing gurus in the run-up to the 2006 elections), at least orange looks like an almost natural colour for roses, whereas blue would look decidedly odd.
Further along the street are a couple of Green party activists desperately trying to attract the attention of the passing shoppers. Their efforts, even under a sign declaring the greens are not dead, seem not enough to revive the voters who backed the party in 2006. A stall of the small Party of Free Citizens set-up by the Klausite policy wonk Petr Mach has a greater number of party activists sheltering from the drizzle, but it is not attracting much interest, unsurprising for a party which barely registers in opinion polls.

A short metro journey away the Prague Communists are having their final rally. A small crowd of mostly white and grey-haired citizens have congregated to listen to some of the city’s communists including the leader of the party’s list in Prague Jiri Dolejs. No-one seems especially enthusiastic, although one of the female speakers who bemoans developments in the past twenty years earns plenty of nodding heads. The criticisms of developments of the past two decades seem rather incongruent given the party’s stall is next to one of the new shopping centres. A symbol of capitalism sure, but one the citizens of Prague seem to be enjoying with relish judging by the number of shopping bags in hands. On the opposite side of the square, the Social Democrats also have a stall. No set-pieces speeches here, just more orange roses, a jazz quartet and the presence of the larger-than-life Interior Minister Martin Pecina who towers above the citizens who are asking him questions.

The surprise package of Czech politics in recent months has been the new party Veci Verejene (‘Public Affairs’). No day of campaigning would be complete without seeing something of the party led by Radek John, which if polls are to be believed, could win around tenth of the votes. The party has a stall opposite its Prague HQ. Under a billboard calling for the end of the dinosaurs in politics, but reminiscent of ODS’s event near Angel, VV has arranged young pretty girls to distribute cakes and chocolates to entice the passing citizens, and for some musicians to persuade those who congregate to tap their feet. Moreover, they have a candy floss (cotton candy) machine.

After lingering for awhile I decide to leave and start walking back to Andel to take the tram back to the in-laws. A few hundred metres from the VV stall a German family with three young children are walking in the same direction as me. They probably know little about Czech political dinosaurs or Radek John, but they are really enjoying the taste of the candy floss. Not everything in Czech politics has such a bitter taste, but the tastiest things are sometimes the offerings of the new to the ignorant.