Who With Whom: Slovakia Coalition Possibility Roundup

Just a quick post here–since as Slovakia’s election nears I want to move away from essays and toward updates.  Even as I lack the ability even to guess how parties will actually fare in the election, the news causes me to think about what happens after the votes are in and what kind of government will be formed.  As I’ve argued earlier, this depends heavily on which parties make it over the threshold, and since the margins are narrow, that is almost impossible to predict in any meaningful way.  And yet parties have begun to sort themselves in interesting ways.  Interesting here are a series of stories in which parties commit themselves to choosing some coalition partners and rejecting others.  We saw this in last week’s questions about whether KDH and other opposition parties would openly reject coalition with Smer (KDH did, except in the case of a grand coalition; Most-Hid did the same thing shortly thereafter) and whether the current right wing parties would reject coalition with SMK over the Hungarian citizenship law (Radicova of SDKU seemed to do this but then opened the door to withdrawing her rejection if SMK changes its position).  We also have the assistance in this regard of a helpful questionnaire by SME which most party leaders (except Fico) actually answered that asks, among other things, about acceptance of some coalition partners and about “certain rejection” of others.  The various links are here:

I also tag every article I find on the subject of coalition partners with the “coalitionpartners” tag in the social bookmark service “Delicious” and the results (as of this writing 86 articles) is available here: http://delicious.com/kdecay/pozorblog+coalitionpartners.

Together all these articles yield the following record of acceptances and exclusions, which covers nearly all of the 28 possible bilateral relationships among the 8 possible partners, with darker lines indicating stronger sentiments, black indicating acceptance and red indicating rejection.  I’ve separated the acceptance and rejection for the sake of clarity.

If we take these literally, we essentially move to a situation where just about the only viable possibilities are the current coalition and the current opposition.  In fact according to this, the only relationships across opposition-coalition lines that have not been formally excluded are these three:

And Smer in indicting SDKU and KDH for previously making a coalitions with MKP-SMK has all but excluded MKP-SMK as a coalition partner (some things are more damning to a coalition than a formal exclusion).  And in any case there is almost no circumstance in which any of these would help create a coalition except, perhaps, the unlikely Smer-SMK-HZDS “coalition from hell” (or as Ben Stanley puts it better than I ever could, “Sounds like a job for the Large Hadron Collider.”  So this evidence points toward either a continuation of the current coalition (hard to manage if one of the two Slovak national parties drops out) or its replacement by the opposition (hard to manage if one of the Hungarian national parties drops out)…

But, as a variety of sources have noted that exclusions, formal statements of exclusion do not mean that a coalition is impossible.  As I’ve discussed above, at my own peril I accepted HZDS’s Meciar statements at face value when he excluded coalition with Slota’s SNS.  As today’s Pravda headline nicely puts it: “Statements of Who-With-Whom need not be taken seriously.”  And as Michal Polak notes in a comment on a previous post,

In Slovak politics, talk is cheap, in my experience. One might blame Meciar, if one is so inclined, with his rich and frequently employed imagination, for introducing this aspect into Slovak politics; but whatever the case, I’d say that Slovak voters are pretty used to things tomorrow being different from what is being said today.

See the rest of Michal’s astute observations here, at the bottom of the page.  It’s nice to have such smart readers.

Guest Blogger: Sean Hanley on Czech Electoral Politics

Editor’s note:  For the first time on this blog I welcome a guest blogger, and there is no better way to start than with Sean Hanley of University College London, School of Slavonic and East European Studies, Centre for the Study of Central Europe.  It is Sean’s Blog, http://drseansdiary.blogspot.com/that made me realize how useful blogs were for academic communication and gave me the inspiration to take mine much more seriously.  Sean writes:

“I think that we are seeing the rise of new parties – and actually if you track other things including the world of Czech extra-parliamentary parties there is a clear ‘below the radar’ trend that has been underway for several years. I tend to see the challengers as still very much (as they have always been) on the centre-right.  On the left the challenges are not so serious. SPO(Z)  given their current inability to go beyond 3% in the polls, are not, and I think will not become, a serious challenger to CSSD as TOP09 and VV are for ODS and KDU. Crucially, SPO(Z) lack the element of novelty.  Suverenita, if they could get the resources and pick up the political momentum needed for lift off, would be a better bet for real a centre-left populist breakthrough: populist message, well known leader, element of novelty including having a female leader (Veci verejne have also traded on the same formula and have done well despite being led by the bluff Radek John).  On the other hand, this type of formula was tried in 2006 by Zelezny and the Indepedent Democrats and flopped. There is also the possibility of a recurrence of the 1999-2002 surge of KSCM, but I wonder about how likely that would be to repeat since KSCM lacks the broad appeal and tactical flexibility to capitalise on such opportunities.

It would be interesting to compile a dashboard window for support for non-parliamentary parties (including TOP09, which has not made it independently into parliament) to see what trends there are As regards, disillusionment/new party cycles, I would be a little cautious about the viewing this as a very general model to which the CR — after an odd and exceptional period of historically conditioned party system stability — will tend gravitate.  An underlying question is the nature of the disillusionment cycles and demand for new parties and specifically whether there is a certain cyclical/fixed background layer of frustration with established parties held in check by diminishing stock of organizational and political robustness or whether we are seeing eruptions of discontent, which fit with some longer term unfolding pattern linked to social change or the changing nature of reform politics in the region.

To return to the short term the election looks to be shaping up for the predicted battering for ODS and Pyrrhic victory for CSSD.  It will be interesting to see if Klaus blocks a minority CSSD government as promised to avoiding a CSSD-KSCM entente, although if KDU-CSL make it into parliament (and their apparent loss of all but their core support has the positive electoral implication that such voters will tend to turn out, whereas I think TOP09 and VV might poll less than polls suggest) it could leave us again with the familiar deadlocked situation. Grand Coalition anyone?”

Sean makes his electoral predictions on his blog today!  Check it out: http://drseansdiary.blogspot.com/2010/05/czech-elections-more-new-old-politics.html#links

Tomorrow: guest blogging from Tim Haughton of the University of Birmingham

Slovakia’s politics in a nutshell

Everything you never wanted to know about politics in Slovakia and were therefore afraid to ask (lest I’d tell you).  I’ve finally had a chance to annotate an absurdly long and detailed presentation on Slovakia’s politics which derived in large part from the exercises I’ve been conducting on this blog (and past efforts).  The questions, some of which are rigorously answered in this presentation (and others of which I speed through hoping you’ll take my word for it):

  • What is politics in Slovakia about?  What is the struggle
  • Where is the power?
  • What are the parties like?  Their history, organization, voters, recent poll performance
  • What coalitions are possible after the elections?  Which are most probable?  Why?

Much of this is conjecture on my part, though I’ve tried to ground it as well as I could in data.  As always, I crave comments lest I write out into the void.

There are two versions:

Polls, Politics and Parties, Part 5: Who with Whom? Doing the coalition math

coal allWith 8 parties potentially entering Slovakia’s parliament there are 255 different coalition possibilities.  Fortunately, not withstanding Bismark’s aphorism that “Politics is the art of the possible,” there are quite a few coalition possibilities that we can exclude and in the end we can narrow down the possibilities to a relatively small number.  In the paragraphs below, I do this as systematically as I can by excluding (with great care) individual relationships that simply will not work and ranking others by probability, and then with guesses about which of the remainder will manage to muster a sufficient number of seats.  Those who don’t want to read the whole process by which I reached the answer can jump down to the bottom and look at the pretty graph:

Coalition (im)possibilities: What can we exclude?

I heartily accept Charles Dudley Warner’s conclusion that “Politics makes strange bedfellows” and I am no longer surprised when lifelong enemies join forces against a new opponent, so it is a dangerous business to say that “Party A” will not form a coalition with “Party B.”   In fact, as I learned the hard way, it is still a dangerous business even when the leader of “Party A” has said it himself.  For example:

(HZDS leader Vladimir) Meciar only ruled out post-election cooperation with the Slovak National Party (SNS). “This is because of its low political culture, vulgarism, and inclination toward unethical behavior, and I cannot cooperate with Jan Slota (SNS leader).” Sme, Tuesday, April 11, 2006 T08:49:17Z:

Since this statement led me to discount the combination that emerged 3 months later and that has governed in Slovakia during the past four years, I now think it wise to seek out other standards.  What leaders say can be helpful but only if backed up by something else.  Unfortunately, that something else is the rather insubstantial notion that barring alien invasion, some parties very reasons for being exclude coalitions with other parties and whose electoral existence would be threatened by the combination.  There are only a few of these:

  • Slovak National and Hungarian National:  It is hard to envision a coalition between the Slovak National Party (SNS) and the Hungarian parties, Most-Hid and MKP-SMK.  It would be very hard for the Slovak National Party to accept partnership with parties it tried to ban, even if the Hungarian parties were willing to accept.
  • Left and Right:  It is hard to envision a coalition between Smer and Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) or the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKU).  This one’s a bit less certain because the economic dimension is not quite as bitter as the national one, but from its beginning SaS pointed to Smer as its chief opponent and differentiated itself from other parties on its same side of the political spectrum (especially SDKU) precisely on its unwillingness to form a coalition with Smer.  For an older, more established party, it might be possible to go back on the promise, but SaS doesn’t have too much else to offer.

coal1This reduces the range of party relationships a bit and drops the total number of coalition permutations to 119:

The next step is to eliminate combinations that are highly unlikely, on the basis of leader statements backed by some fundamental opposition that would cost a party major support if it joined with another.  Here I would suggest several candidates:

  • Right and Slovak National: KDH, SDKU and SaS are highly unlikely to form a coalition with SNS.  It is not impossible that right-wing parties might join with SNS, but it is hard to imagine the circumstances.  SNS has used such strong national rhetoric and has faced so many corruption allegations that even Smer has found the combination difficult.  For the right wing parties, whose voters are less nationally oriented and who are likely more sensitive than Smer to the opinions of international partners, the combination would be even more difficult.  Furthermore, any seats that SNS would bring to a right-wing coalition would be more than offset by the loss of any possibility of Hungarian seats.
  • Let and Right: It is also hard to envision a coalition between Smer and SDKU.  At one time the combination seemed utterly impossible given Fico’s hatred for Dzurinda; now that Dzurinda will no longer be the electoral leader of SDKU, it might be a bit easier, but Fico has just as much disdain for one of the leading candidates for SDKU leader–Miklos–and the other leading candidate, Radicova has recently sharpened her rejection of this kind of coalition.

coal2Since coalitions can occur only if all parties are willing to pair with all others, this drops the number of permuations to a (slightly) more reasonable 83.

In addition to these, there are a number of hard relationships, those which would be made difficult either by personal animosity or by potential loss of support.  This category—where I should have placed HZDS-SNS in 2006—is a bit larger but doesn’t help us much as it merely raises the cost of coalitions rather than preventing them altogether.  Still, these combinations are worth noting as “expensive”

  • Right and Slovak national.  It is not impossible to exclude a coalition between HZDS and KDH, SaS, MKP-SMK and Most-Hid, but past conflicts between HZDS and the right and Hungarian national parties are still vivid enough that such a coalition, while possible, would not be easy.  KDH in particular has resisted any connection with HZDS but the Hungarian parties are also disinclined.  SaS leader Sulik has moved from a statement that a coalition with HZDS would be a lesser evil, to a statment that HZDS leader Meciar should be “behind bars.”
  • Left and Right.  The only left-right coalition not excluded above is Smer with KDH.   This is the one that is merely unlikely rather than hard to imagine.  The coalition would be hard to accept for Smer voters and especially hard for KDH voters.  Recent comments by KDH chair Figel about Smer are sharper than in the past and a coalition would likely hurt KDH with its supporters, but it can’t be excluded entirely.
  • Left and Hungarian national.  Both Hungarian parties, for their part, seem desirious enough of entering government that they would probably be able to overlook Smer’s past rhetoric on national questions but Smer has put a lot of energy into criticizing Hungarians and so would find it difficulty (though probably not impossible) to choose a Hungarian partner as it would lose a relatively strong electoral appeal.  Since, as below, Most-Hid and MKP-SMK are not getting along well at the moment a coalition between Smer and only one of the Hungarian parties would be slightly less fraught, but might be no more desirable to Smer and would have a lower chance of gaining a majority.
  • Hungarian and Hungarians.  Ultimately a conclusion may well include MKP-SMK with Most-Hid but doing so will take some work as the leaders of the two parties dislike each other intensely and the rhetoric has becoming sharper.


We can also do a preliminary assessment of the mathematical possibilities of coalitions, using a maximalist version of current party support.  A coalition of SDKU and SaS might work nicely but the party has no practical chance of a parliamentary majority.  We can exclude electorally impossible coalitions by taking current poll results and (for safety’s sake) giving each party a 30% bonus (assuming maximal poll error in a party’s favor).  This brings the number of even barely viable coalitions down to “only” 27.

From this, furthermore, we can remove 7 coalitions as containing redundant members (eliminating the smallest still leaves more than 80 seats by current estimates).  This brings us down to 19.

Coalition possibilities: What’s left:

For simplicity we can further categorize these coalitions by similarities among members.  The graph below tries to makes sense of these many options by comparing them along two axes:  from left to right a internal compatibility of coalitions (related to the “expensiveness” of coalition pairings discussed above but based on my own highly-arguable judgment rather than any quantitative measure) and from bottom to top an expected number of seats based on current month polls.  Least likely coalitions are in the lower left; most likely in the upper right.

coalition matrix

The coalitions in terms of likelihood are, therefore:

  • coal lsnSmer + Slovak National:  From an electoral perspective, the current coalition has a strong chance of return, and is not utterly unpalatable for the coalition members.  Slightly more internally compatible would be a subset of the current coalition—Smer with either HZDS or SNS—but this has a somewhat lower chance of sufficient electoral success.
  • coal lhnSmer + Hungarian National: A coalition between Smer and both Hungarian parties is electorally possible but less mutually desirable by its member.
    • Smer + Hungarian National + Slovak National: Adding HZDS to this mix is theoretically possible but probably would not be necessary in electoral terms and would add consideral internal incompatibility
  • coal lrSmer + Right: It is hard to imagine a coalition between Smer and a “right” party except KDH and even this would be unappetizing for Smer (though perhaps moreso than a coalition with Hungarian parties) and even less so for KDH.
  • Right + Hungarian National: A coalition resembling the 2002-2006 Dzurinda government is coal rhncertainly a possibility in terms of internal compatibility (these parties conflicted with one another when in government but seem willing to tolerate one another rather than see another Fico government).  From an electoral perspective, however, these are highly unlikely.
    • Right + Hungarian National + Slovak National: Adding HZDS to this coalition could perhaps coal rhnsnpush this coalition into a parliamentary majority but only by adding so much internal incoherence as to make it highly unlikely.  It is hard to imagine what incentives could inspire HZDS to chose this coalition rather than one with Smer but the party is certainly relying on having more bargaining potential than SNS, for whom Smer is the only coalition choice.

Both of these are only very rough indicators of the actual factors (coalitionability and electoral strength) but they are the best I can come up with at the moment.  I will try to nuance these as the election nears.  One nuance, worth thinking about now, however, is the fact that Slovaka’s electoral system does not make a smooth equivalence between seats and votes but rather imposes (as most countries do) a 5% threshold.  Since 5 of Slovakia’s 8 major parties have support near 5%, a small change in support can have major impact on the composition of parliament and these deserve consideration in the next post.