Sean Hanley waxes eloquent on Sovereignty

Excellent post today by Sean Hanley on the potential of the “new”(ish) Czech Party “Sovereignty” which perfectly corresponds to all that is interesting to me about the region’s politics these day:

Sovereignty’s politics are straightforward:   a mix of Czech nationalism, euroscepticism and the anti-elite, outsider rhetoric that many people like to call populism. It is, its website makes clear, a party ‘…defending the interests of citizens of the Czech Republic…’ with the conservatve-nationalist strap-line “Law, Labour, Order”

Full post is here:

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: Time for the Bigger Picture

A third post on the Czech election. There is a lot to say. I will begin by not quite rejecting the strong temptation to direct criticism to Dnes for celebrating the record high number of women in the new Czech parliament by adorning the article with a drawing of a topless woman and then inviting its readers to vote for “Miss Parliament” based on electoral headshots (I feel compelled to include the link just to prove I’m not making this up, but please don’t go there). It is enough to say, perhaps, that this is sexist even by Central European standards .

Instead I will focus on the question of volatility. In yesterday’s post I plotted Czech volatility over time but did not have time to use the right methods or comparison set. Now that vacation is over, I can fill in the gaps.

First, I can provide references to the articles I cited: the two best recent works I know on volatility:

Because Powell and Tucker provide time series data, I will focus on theirs here, but Mainwaring et al handle the question beautifully as well (particularly their focus on “young” as opposed to strictly “new” parties). My first task was to take the Czech electoral data and use it to distinguish between volatility among existing parties (Mainwaring et al call this intra-system; Powell and Tucker call it Type B) and volatility created by parties entering and leaving the party system (Mainwaring et al call this extra-system; Powell and Tucker call it Type A). Using Powell and Tucker’s method (slightly different from my rough cut yesterday because it excludes parties with less than 2%) produces the following graph which decomposes the red line into its
From this it becomes clear that with the exception of 1992 (when extra-system volatility was huge because of the breakup of Civic Forum and seversl other parties) and 2006 (when extra-system volatility was basically absent), the Czech Republic has had both types of volatility in roughly equal levels.

These levels are low not only with regard to the first electoral period but also with regard to the region as a whole. To convey that point, I steal figures from Powell and Tucker’s 2009 analysis, circle the Czech Republic, and insert the 2010 data. For comparison’s sake, I do the same for Hungary (and in two weeks will do the same for Slovakia). The results are as follows, with the Czech Republic in blue and Hungary in green.

By comparison with the region as a whole, both the Czech Republic and Hungary have exhibited low levels of both types of volatility; indeed in most election years during this period, these two countries have been at or near the lowest overall. On specific kinds of volatility, both Hungary and the Czech Republic have only occasionally been above average on intra-system volatility and never (since 1992 in the Czech Republic) above average on extra-system volatility. In 2010, however, their levels of intra-system volatility rise above the regional average, but so did the previously extra-system volatility, pushing the overall levels from the near the bottom to slightly above the regional trendlines.

In addition to the quantitative resemblance, there are also other similarities.

  • First, both elections show a clear exhaustion with those in power that is clearly motivated by a general disillusionment with large segments of the political elite. Both the Czechs and the Hungarians had, for the most part, avoided this for some time, with large numbers of disillusioned voters holding their noses and voting for old parties anyway or switching to the other big party (accounting for the not insignificant levels of intra-system volatility). The higher levels of extra-system volatility in both countries suggests that these tendencies have diminished and that these two countries have moved closer to the Central European norm of disillusioned voters shifting to new parties.
  • Second, related to the above, both countries saw the emergence of a culturally liberal party attractive to younger, educated voters making extensive use of social networking software: LMP in Hungary, VV in the Czech Republic. (It seems to my uneducated eye that the Hungarian variant is economically more statist, but this seems relatively unimportant to the overall profile.) It is significant that a nearly identical party–SaS in Slovakia–looks set to take a similar share in Slovakia, and that similar parties have done well in the Baltics. There is here something new, not exactly a new party family (though in their cultural liberalism and anti-corruption emphases they share significant elements) and not exactly a new party type (though their methods and organization do not fit fully with any of the currently hypothesized models, even cartel and firm models), but with strong and intersecting elements of both. Nor is it unique to Central Europe alone but elements of it have emerged also in the West. Expect to hear more on this question in this blog. This is something that will need explanation.

Despite these similarities, it is important to emphasize that the election results in these two countries also differ in ways that are quite instructive:

  • First, in Hungary the intra-system volatility represents the evisceration of one major party at the hands of the other–MSZP dropped while Fidesz rose–while in the Czech Republic, all of the established parties lost support compared to the last election.
  • Second, although both countries saw the emergence of new parties, there is a very big difference between the center right TOP09 in the Czech Republic the far more radical right Jobbik in Hungary. This difference is important not only for the political content of the two parliaments (something we see already in the legislative output of the Hungarian parliament) but also for future volatility: a party with a clear programmatic message such as Jobbik may be able, despite its internal factionalization, to survive multiple election cycles whereas the more diffuse TOP09 may have a harder time of it (though because I have just predicted that it will turn out not to be true).
  • Third, there is a significant difference in the role of these new parties: Jobbik will be able to remain outside of government whereas TOP09 and perhaps VV will likely be part of government. Both positions have their risks: Jobbik may be able to avoid responsibility but will also be able to claim few accomplishments and has already had the softer parts of its agenda on national questions pulled from underneath it by the current government. TOP09 and (probably) VV will be able to implement parts of their agenda but will also become responsible for any resulting problems (even those they merely inherit) and will face problems when their new (and relatively inexperienced) cabinet ministers succumb to the same clientelistic temptations as their predecessors. It is interesting to me that VV has openly contemplated staying out of government, suggesting that it has learned the lesson of past Czech “new” parties and those elsewhere in the region. (As Tim Haughton and I have argued elsewhere: new anti-corruption party + government participation = death)

What happens in Hungary and the Czech Republic as the result of these elections will not, I think, have much impact on the broader world (and may not even have much impact on the quality of the daily lives of Hungarians and Czechs) but they are worth this degree of close scrutiny (and more) because what is going on there is indicative, I think, of significant transformations in the relationship between who people are (demographically), what they think (attitudinally) and who they vote for (politically). Demographic patterns and attitudinal patterns still exist but their relationships to political behavior have changed as perceptions of corruption have risen to the top of the list of concerns (and “endurance” becomes shorthand for “corruption”) and as political entrepreneurs take advantage of this change and of new organizational technologies to provide an ever changing menu of new parties (themselves organized primarily for short term gains). For awhile the Czech Republic and Hungary offered some evidence that the trend was not inevitable. With the most recent elections in these countries, it is more difficult to see any alternative.

Finally, from the broader perspective it is interesting that in Hungary and the Czech Republic the election has been regarded as a fundamental shift, a major change in the game of politics despite the fact that the degree of shift was, by regional standards, only about average. Perhaps earthquakes only seem major if you are not used to them, but they still shake buildings. Of course people and institutions figure out ways to survive even where earthquakes are a regular occurance, but their lives are different than they would be in areas with less seismic activity (money is spent differently, personal habits follow different patterns). I hope to spend a good portion of the next few years thinking about how political life is different when every election is an earthquake.


Ben Stanley commented via Facebook: “It’s great being a CEE specialist. Instead of accumulating common wisdoms, we get to throw them all away and make up new ones!”

Cas Mudde comented via Facebook, “Would be interesting to see the same for seats in parliament.”
Here it is, though it is actually rather uninteresting compared to the same calculations with votes.  It suggests, however, that one of the reasons that new parties do not survive is that they never really get started.  US, VV and TOP09 are the only new parties actually to have made it over the threshold since 1992, but this rather technically excludes the Green Party, SZ whose 2006 incarnation is difficult not to describe as a new party despite a certain degree of legal and organizational continuity with the one established shortly after the revolution of 1989.  It will also be interesting to see if, as Sean Hanley wonders, Suverenita manages to use its stronger-than-expected performance to chip away at CSSD in the next election cycle, thus enhancing (or if VV or TOP09 fare badly, maintaining) the red “2010” bar.

Czech Dashboard News: New parties and the big picture

I will deal with the actual poll results in a few future posts, but I want build on the introduction of the Czech dashboard by talking about broader trends and in particular by assessing the magnitude of “new party eruptions,” the dominant feature of the current Czech campaign.

In my own recent study of populism and new parties, the Czech Republic has become interesting to me for two reasons: first because it is a “dog that didn’t bark”–its “new party cycle” remained confined to a small segment of the political spectrum for over a decade; and second because (as in Hungary, which just saw its highest degree of new party vote since the fall of communism) the Czech “dog” has begun to scratch at the door and looks set to start yapping.

It is useful to start with a graph of the overall picture of party preferences in Czech Republic in the last eight years (a graph presented in dynamic and updated form on the dashboard)

Key: █ ODS █ CSSD █ SZ █ KDU-CSL █ KSCM █ VV █ TOP09 █ SPO █ US █ DS █ Suverenita

Several features stand out. First is the relative stability of the three largest parties. The two larger parties, the orange CSSD and the dark blue ODS swapped positions twice during this period but (with the exception of two dark years for CSSD under Spidla and Gross in the early 2002, remained in competition for the top spot well ahead of the others. The red line which denotes the Communist Party stays remarkably stable between 12% and 20%, almost unchanged from month to month for the last four years. Below them the lighter blue KDU-CSL remained in stable fourth place (usually) but showed a slightly declining trend. Together, these four parties have formed the core of the Czech party system from 1992 until the present. Thus far stability.

The second interesting feature is nearer the bottom of the graph, where parties are born and die. The Czech Republic has regularly seen activity in this zone but it has usually been of a particular type, usually a fifth party with market liberal and cultural libertarian positions.  These parties kept the zone filled because they usually exhibited a limited lifespan: ODA lasted from 1992 until 1998, US from 1998 until 2006, SZ from 2006 until (and perhaps beyond) the present. (In the mid-1990’s the Czech system also included a sixth party, the anti-Roma Republicans, but their demise did not lead to a substantial replacement except for the vocal but small DS and NS). The center-right parties account for a considerable degree of the variability of the system shown above, and the combination of stability among the main four parties and the failure of other new parties to emerge kept the “extra-system” volatility low.

This seems to be changing.  The graph below shows the a smoothed line for the combined share of preferences for the top 1,2,3 and 4 parties. Between the early 2000’s and mid-2009 this remained stable, within around 5 points of 90%. But in the last year something new has emerged.

The stability of the Czech system now faces significant changes, and there are good arguments to be made that these are fundamental changes rather than merely cosmetic ones.

First, as the graph shows, the position of the top four parties have dropped considerably to the point that the share obtained by the top party is now smaller than the share obtained by parties outside the top four. Despite similarly high past levels of dissatisfaction with the major parties, this same trend did not emerge before the 2002 or 2006 elections.

Second, the opinion shifts are poised to have a significant shift on the actual composition of the Czech party system. In the past four elections the Czech system has worked like clockwork: the four stable parties gained seats in parliament and the fifth faced a birth-death cycle every two elections (ODA elected in 1992 and 1996, dead in 1998; US elected in 1998 and 2002, dead in 2006) but the cycle has intensified and spread. According to the most recent poll results (available in the Dashboard) SZ does not look likely to follow ODA and US by retaining seats in parliament. Furthermore, there is a not insignificant chance (though also no guarantee) that 2010 will exclude two parliamentary parties–not only SZ but also KDU-CSL is at significant risk–and the birth of two others–both TOP09 and Veci Verejne (VV).

The third shift, a bit smaller, is paradoxically signified by the stability of the Communist Party. In past election campaigns, voters on the left have signaled dissatisfaction with the Social Democrats by opting for the Communists. This year, despite significant dissatisfaction and declining CSSD preferences, the Communists have seen no gains at all. Instead, voters from CSSD have left for Zeman’s SPO and probably (though I don’t have the data) for VV. It is unlikely that SPO will be elected to parliament (its rise has stalled according to the most recent polls), but its ability to attract a a measurable share of the vote suggests that the Communists are no longer the only (or indeed the main) reservoir for the newly dissatisfied (or that if they are, SPO is attracting some of those dissatisfied in turn with KSCM).

The graph below offers a very loose, schematic hypothesis about the ebb and flow of voters within the Czech system. It suggests that the current situation is characterized by the potential for new alternatives on the left and by the emergence of alternatives on the right that draw not only from ODS–there has always been a significant share of voters that agreed with ODS’s positions but did not like the party itself–but also from KDU-CSL.

This would be a significant change even if TOP09 were simply a replacement for KDU-CSL and VV simply replaced the Czech Greens, but we are not talking one-for-one replacement here. KDU-CSL has had a substantial membership base and a strong internal organization and a fairly broad intra-party elite; SZ has seen significant internal change but with fairly significant internal competition. By contrast both TOP09 and VV seem to be largely top-down creations without strong membership bases or independent elites outside the top figures. In our research on Slovakia, Marek Rybar and I have found a strong correlation between the date of party establishment one one hand and the degree of party organization and intra-party democracy on the other. Lack of organization in turn weakens the ability of parties to survive the ordinary ups and downs of party fortunes; centralization makes it difficult for parties to cope with the weaknesses of individual leaders (ODS and CSSD have shown a strong ability to recover from crises by changing leaders; in leader-driven projects, voters and intra-party rivals are more likely to turn elsewhere, usually to other new parties. If Slovakia (or almost any other country in the region) is any guide, new parties are shorter lived. Replacement of KDU-CSL by TOP09, therefore, strongly implies the subsequent replacement of TOP09 by some other party. The Czech Republic could therefore come to resemble its neighbors in the region with a churn of new parties that extends beyond the narrow realm of volatility in the Czech center-right.  As Czech dogs say, “haf haf.”

New Parties: SaS does the electoral math

SaS LogoInteresting post today from Richard Sulik, founder of Sloboda a Solidarita (trendily-colored logo is at left, found not on a party website but on a Facebook page), who responds to the charge from SDKU that SaS hurt the right by causing voters to “waste” votes on a party that did not make it over the threshold (

Sulik makes interesting arguments to suggest that SaS voters had good reason to vote in other ways and that they might not have voted at all, but he also makes good use of electoral math to make his point:  he uses the electoral formula to show that  reallocation of all SaS to SDKU would only have reallocated the number of seats that went to the right (SDKU would have gained one but KDH would have lost one) and thus that SaS did not impact the final result.  The math looks solid to me and it is nice to see someone respond to arguments by looking at actual numbers and rules.

Nevertheless, it is not as easy to dismiss the SDKU arguments if they are seen as a warning about future elections.  SaS did not have much impact in the European Parliament elections because there were so few seats at stake (13 [Correction, thanks reader “Richard”).  Had it been a parliamentary election (and yes, many other things would have been different as well), Sulik’s argument is not quite as strong.  I’ve reworked his numbers assuming the 150 seats of Slovakia’s parliament at stake.  According to this, calcuation, SaS would have had a significant impact on SDKU votes (which would have gained 6 seats had it received all of the SaS votes) which is partially but not completely ameliorated by its impact on KDH and SMK (each of which would have lost a seat).  In terms of coalition and opposition, this is almost a crucial difference:  from clear parliamentary majority for Smer-SNS-HZDS to a bare majority that would hinge on the decision of only two deputies.

European Parliament Election Results if 150 seats (the Slovak Parliament) were available for election, according to two hypotheses:

Party SaS supporters vote for SaS SaS supporters vote for SDKU
Smer 56 53
SDKU 30 36
SMK 20 19
KDH 19 18
HZDS 16 15
SNS 9 9
Smer+HZDS+SNS 81 77

Of course this is all theory, but the underlying debate is deeply relevant.  The more the fragmentation on the right, the worse it is likely to do (as the left and the Slovak nationals demonstrated in 2002), but it is not a zero-sum game and it may be true that Sulik’s party brings out new voters.  His ability to mobilize certainly is apparent in this election.  The question for me is whether the best use of Facebook/youtube/social networks is enough to attract the 115,000 voters who will likely be necessary to get a party over the 5% threshold in 2010?  The effort is certainly worth watching.

New Parties: Most-Hid now on display

Most-Hid LogoFor a party whose name looks in English to mean “least visible” this party will be getting a lot of attention over the coming year. Founded by Bela Bugar, former head of the Party of the Hungarian Coalition (SMK), it may change Slovakia’s political landscape.  Or maybe not.

The party’s name actually means “Bridge” in both Slovak and Hungarian.  This allows a nice pun by SME–“Bugar’s people divide Hungarians with a bridge (–and prompts a lot of speculation by a lot of people about the nature of the new party.  In fact, I suspect that it would be difficult for any predominantly Hungarian party to attract more than 1 or 2% of the Slovak electorate, though European election results from this weekend suggest that minority-focused parties can attract more than their ethnic share if the other parties are in bad enough odor.  Nor do I think that the new party, despite its name, necessarily expects to gain a large number of Slovak voters.  The debate here is primarily about what happens within the Hungarian community.

At first glance, creation of a second major party to represent Slovakia’s Hungarian minority seems extremely dangerous in a country where the electoral threshold is 5% and the Hungarian population hovers around 11%.  The Slovak National Party (SNS) here represents the worst case scenario: in 2000 it split its 8% electorate almost exactly down the middle (disillusioning a few of its supporters in the process) between SNS and the “Real” SNS (PSNS) in such a way that each half got 3.5% and neither made it over the threshold.  With this example in mind, the establishment of Most-Hid looks like a gamble, especially since, the split follows the SNS-PSNS in another key way: one party gets the more popular leader but little organization, while the other gets the organizational continuity and the uncharismatic new leader who threw out the other one.  The difference, however, is significant as well: unlike SNS voters (who could always turn to HZDS) Hungarian voters do not have anywhere else to go, and given the minority status of Hungarians in Slovakia they are relatively well-habituated to turning out rather than staying home.

Given these conditions, what is the likely effect of Most-Hid on overall election results.  Well in the first place, Bugar has been careful not to exclude the possibility of an electoral coalition with the party he just left, which would more or less return the situation to the pre-1998 situation in which two Hungarian parties competed for share of vote but approached elections in coalition.  Even if the parties do go into the election separately, the results may actually not be catastrophic for the Hungarian population.  The graph below starts with today’s electoral environment and makes the assumption that a combination of two Hungarian parties will receive 11%.  (This is a conservative estimate, slightly below the party’s recent totals in the mid-11% range.  Of course it is possible that bitter competition between two Hungarian parties could turn voters off, but it is just as possible that having more defined choices might bring some Hungarians back to the voting booth and, just maybe, that Bugar could attract a few Slovaks, so 11% is probably a bit low.)  Under current conditions, a party with 11%  would gain 19 seats, one short of SMK’s take in 2006.  For the sake of argument I assume that each point gained by Most-Hid reduces the support for SMK by the same amount and then calculate the number of seats according to the current Slovak method for alloting parliamentary seats:

Most-Hid Calcuations

First, and obvious but it should be said, unless the Hungarian party electorate falls below 10%, the emergence of Most-Hid won’t replicate the SNS-PSNS mutual destruction.  One of the two parties will gain representation.  The next-worst-case scenario not impossible but it is also not as grim as it might seem because of the workings of the electoral system.  If Most-Hid (or SMK) were to get 4.99% and the other party 6.01%, the total share of parties would certainly fall short of the possible score, but not by as much as one might suppose since, with fewer parties above the threshold, parties get more seats per vote.  As a result, the likey minimum score for total Hungarian representation is 12 seats.  Furthermore in half of the scenarios above (I cannot say which is most likely), Hungarian representation does not drop by more than two.

The fact that the creation of Most-Hid threatens a drop but not an elimination of Hungarians in parliament may help to explain Bugar’s calcuations.  The step won’t ruin his reputation and increases his options.  It is not impossible that Most might be able to attract a significant share of SMK support and become the dominant of the two partners, allowing Bugar to dictate terms, allowing the possibility of an electoral coalition with SMK, even leading to the ouster of Csaky from SMK and a re-unification under Bugar.

Add to this the probability (diminished slightly but still extremely high) that Smer will form the next government and the fact that some within Smer have already responded positively to Most-Hid’s creation ( and the creation of the party actually looks like a well-calculated risk.  Even the timing is relatively good: a year ahead of elections is enough for the party to build an organization but not too long for the party to languish in opposition obscurity.

Smer may be the real winner in all this:  if Most makes it over the threshold, the number of possible coalition partners increases and therefore so does Smer’s bargaining power.  If Most does not make it over the threshold but draws away a significant number of voters from SMK, then the seats SMK might have won are redistributed upward and some of them will go to Smer.

The real loser in this are those political scientists (by which I mean myself) who argued that SMK’s strong internal organization and decision-making mechanisms made it more stable and less likely to fragment.  But perhaps those same researchers can recover by shifting their focus to study new parties.

One interesting side note:  at the time of with the rather poorly-planned announcement of Palko’s KDS, which at the time had neither a website, logo or even name, I have been conscious of how politicians in Slovakia miss chances for using early publicity to establish a brand that no private firm would ever miss.  So on the day the rumors about Most-Hid finally reached the daily press I checked to see if anybody had established a Most-Hid website.  No, but they did do so by the following day, though the website is empty except for the logo.

Interestingly if I read right, the party had already claimed the domain name about 3 weeks ago, at a time when discussions between Bugar and Csaky were still going on!  Plus two points for prior planning.  Minus one point for good faith bargaining.

Domain-name [and]
Admin-name          Websupport, s.r.o.
Admin-address       c.d.457, Kysucky Lieskovec 02334
Admin-telephone     0904/306 081, 0904/306 081, 0904/306 081
Last-update         2009-05-16
Valid-date          2010-05-12
Domain-status       DOM_OK

“Ostentatiously New” Parties (in Lithuania)

I have written a bit about new parties and particularly those parties for which being “new” is a feature (as Allan Sikk calls it, “the project of newness”)–and will be writing a lot more about this–but I never imagined that a single party’s advertising campaign could capture almost all of the basic issues involved with newness.  Enter Lithuania’s “National Resurrection Party”(Tautos prisikėlimo partija), a party of political outsiders run by a television performer  and producer Arūnas Valinskas (see him hosting Lithuania’s version of “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire“).

In addition to its origins outside of politics–and in show business–the party single five slide ad campaign offers a nearly perfect summary of the themes of “ostentatiously new” parties across the region all rolled up into a single package which itself breaks the “establishment” political mold with the kind of daring images that get attention and that most politicians would not risk using (the candidates themselves in drag, straightjackets, prison stripes, vampire-teeth and Viking helmets):

Theme 1: Fighting corruption
Caption: We will force the general prosecutor to work.
Behind bars

Theme 2: Honesty and independence (Along with Theme 1:Corruption)
Caption: We won’t steal from you (We can earn our own money)
We won’t steal from you

Theme 3: Tangible improvements in quality of life
Caption: When we rule, the price of heat won’t go up
Out of the cold

Theme 4: Defense of the people
Caption: We will fight for you tooth and claw
Tooth and claw

 Theme 5: Incapacity of the current political elite and its institutions
Caption: Let us enter this ship of fools (the ship is labeled “parliament”)
Ship of fools

These are really great ads–some of the funniest I’ve seen in a long time–but they offer no evvidence that TPP will break the cycle of brand new media-driven parties scoring big, entering government, losing their lustre and collapsing to leave a space before the next election (we’ve seen it twice now).  To the contrary, this party seems to have refined the process even further.  I have never seen an ad campaign that makes it more difficult to imagine the party’s future ad campaign.  It is hard to know where to go from here and so I can only assume that the party’s futures look like the ship in picture #5.  (Of course that’s what I said about Slovakia’s unprecedentedly popular ruling party Smer just after its election in 2006–see the last sentence in

Hat tip (much belated) to a bit of schadenfreude from The Monkey Cage .  Thanks to Marek Rybar for obtaining the translations. Any errors in retranslation are my own.

New Parties, Again: Liga-Civic Liberal Party

LIGA-OLSDissatisfaction with Slovakia’s current roster of pro-market, cultural liberal parties has produced yet another entrant: Liga-Civic Liberal Party:  Liga-OLS enters an crowded field, one already occupied by SDKU as well as the smaller, non-parliamentary Alliance of the New Citizen (ANO) and Slobodne Forum (SF).    

Liga’s proto-platform places it squarely in the same political space as those parties but as with KDS in the pro-market, cultural consevative quadrant, it is not entirely clear how Liga will manage to differentiate itself and draw voters from existing parties.  Pravda (anticipating this party’s creation) dealt with this question earlier this year in a brief article (here in Slovak, here in mediocre Google English translation.  Unlike KDS, Liga at least began its public life with a logo and a website, but it will take a considerable effort and probably some good luck for the party to become prominent enough to siphon off more dissatisfied SDKU voters, especially while ANO and SF are trying to do the same thing.  The Slovak socio-economic left was just as crowded by small parties around 2002 and has since seen a dramatic consolidation, but it had the advantage of “a Fico” and of somewhat less concern with cultural issues (which seem to have an asymmetrical impact, dividing the socioeconomic right more than the socioeconomic left).

More on this as we find out more.   October and November polling updates coming soon.