Slovakia Presidential Election: The Fico Connundrum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

September 2009 Poll Results: Whither Smer?

This post comes a bit late because of changes to the pozorblog site but the month’s news is important enough to warrant an interim post.

Things only changed a little this month. But small changes from one month to the next add up. And this month not all the changes are small. A few areas to watch.


September 2009 Graphs_Page_01

As the image shows Smer remains far above its nearest competitors–still well over double the preferences of SDKU. But the last four months have seen a drop in Smer preferences from the mid-40s to the high-30s. This shift is primarily in FOCUS polls, however, and it is difficult to say whether the result is “real” or some sort of blip. Median, the only monthly alternative, shows no similar drop. I am really missing UVVM this month as it was always helpful to see what a second pollster said before making a judgment, and MVK polls are as unpredictable–in their appearance, not their results–as weather.

September 2009 Graphs_Page_05Closer look at Smer polls over time show a gradual increase over the last two years peaking in a cluster in late 2008 and then reverting back to the previous plateau and now, again to a lower level, though whether that lower level is part of a plateau or a slope is something we will have to see about. I suspect next month will show Smer higher in Focus polls but lower than its average level for the last 5 months. I suspect this month’s drop is a bit of an outlier, just as its previous peaks did not always sustain themselves and appear to be noise rather than signal.Smer doesn’t have too much to fear–it’s still hard to calculate a way that it won’t be in the next government, but it wouldn’t surprise me if some mid-level Smer types were starting to work on their political insurance policies.


September 2009 Graphs_Page_02Take Smer out of the graph and it looks more like a competitive party system. And this fall for the first time in a long time, the two top competitors to Smer are both from the opposition: SDKU and KDH. SDKU dropped slightly this month in FOCUS polls but it’s still near a historic high (in the past it would do this well in elections but not in polls). Some of its slight decline may relate to the rapid resurgence of KDH, a party that has taken a sudden upward jump due, I must think, to the energizing presence of Jan Figel, former European Commissioner. I am interested to see whether Figel’s more proactive approach will keep the party preferences high. In some sense, this does not help the opposition much, since those attracted to Figel are probably those who would otherwise hold their noses and vote for SDKU, but since they might also vote for SaS, it keeps votes among the larger opposition parties. Thumbnails for SDKU and KDH are here:

SDKU——————————————————– KDH

September 2009 Graphs_Page_06September 2009 Graphs_Page_10


Slovakia’s two minor governmental parties continue their respective slow slides, partly the result of Smer’s remarkable skill at picking off their voters and partly the result of their own internal struggles and disadvantages. HZDS has stopped falling for the moment but given the party’s steady 10 year slide and absence of anything new that might recommend it, it is hard to imagine anything but continued decline (with the key question: 5% or not 5% next June). SNS’s decline has been disquised at times by the party’s erratic support shifts but it is notable that all of the trendlines (24-month, 12-month, 6-month and 3-month point down at almost the exact same angle). The party has more leeway for falling than HZDS but it is not immune, and at some point SNS mid-level leaders are going to need to decide what to do if they feel that Jan Slota is pulling them down. The party’s structures are so focused around the party chair that the only way to force change will be to leave, but the last time they did that the parties split the electorate 50/50 and neither got into parliament.

SNS——————————————————– HZDS

September 2009 Graphs_Page_07

September 2009 Graphs_Page_09

and Most-Hid

Not much to say here, yet. For two polls in a row both parties are poised to make it into parliament. If this can continue then Bela Bugar has done a big favor to the Hungarian electorate, bringing back those disenfranchised from SMK. If both don’t stay above 5 and neither drops to near-zero, then the Hungarians will see their poorest electoral showing since the early days of Slovakia’s democracy. I’d be keen to hear any thoughts from Magyarophones about what to expect here as this is a subset of the population from which I hear little direct news.

SMK (regular graphs for Most-Hid coming soon)

September 2009 Graphs_Page_08

Smaller Parties:

Not much news here this month. SaS shows staying power at around 3%, and KSS recovered this month to its traditional 3% levels as well (though it has not been there for awhile). Below, around 2% stands SF (recovering slightly from a major drop the previous month) and at at the flatline level are OKS, KDS, ANO and Liga (which didn’t get a single person to mention it’s name this month even though it’s on the list). Between them are two more: HZD (slightly higher than expected–it’s been flatlining) and the Greens (somewhat lower than expected–last month it even beat KSS).

What it all means? The Coalition Partner Game

It’s still Smer’s ballgame, but coalition politics could become extremely interesting if Smer does end up at around 35% and HZDS or SNS fall below 5%. It is dangerous to trust what parties say about potential coalition partners, but as of now, SDKU and KDH appear to have ruled out coalition with Smer (Dzurinda is right, I think, to note that such a coalition would severely hurt his party, and he doesn’t have the organization or track record to ride it out the way ODS and CSSD did with their opposition agreement in the Czech Republic). But if this option truly is gone, then there are few other combinations that can make 50%. If the existing coalition can’t muster 50% because one party drops off, then Fico would need to find alternatives, but (even though I generally do not rule things out) there will be no coalition containing both SNS and either SMK or Most-Hid, and SaS, the only other party that looks now to have a chance, has promised up one side and down the other that it will not join forces with Smer. So Smer’s only real chance is probably SNS+HZDS or so many votes for parties that fall below the threshold that it can with SNS or HZDS form a bare majority government.

At the same time, there’s not much hope for a government of the current opposition parties. Even with SDKU and KDH and SMK and Most-Hid and SaS, there’s nothing like a majority. It might be possible to create one by adding HZDS to this but even that’s unlikely and HZDS is the party in greatest danger of falling short. In 10 short years, HZDS has gone from a huge and polarizing force in Slovakia’s politics to a tiny but necessary coalition partners. The more things stay the same, the more they change.

Fico on Dzurinda: What it’s all about.

/* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:”Table Normal”; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-parent:””; mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt; mso-para-margin:0in; mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:10.0pt; font-family:”Times New Roman”; mso-ansi-language:#0400; mso-fareast-language:#0400; mso-bidi-language:#0400;} smer_logo.gif sdku.jpgWhile I do not often write about particular political statements,  I am drawn to comment on today’s response by Robert Fico to Mikulas Dzurinda’s accusations that the government has failed to tap Eurofunds. 

I translate Fico’s statement as follows (and would appreciate any better translation):

My political conscience cannot be a person like Mikulas Dzurinda, who lies from morning until night.  He gouged us, surrendered our economy to foreign monopolies, evidently bought members of parliament.  A person who never wanted Slovakia, did not vote for the constitution of Slovakia or for sovereignty.  I will never respond to such a person, ” said Fico

“Mojím politickým svedomím nemôže byť človek ako Mikuláš Dzurinda, ktorý od rána do večera cigáni. Vydieral nás, spôsobil odovzdanie ekonomiky tohto štátu cudzím monopolom. Preukázateľne kupoval poslancov Národnej rady SR. Človek, ktorý nikdy nechcel Slovensko, nehlasoval za Ústavu SR, zvrchovanosť. Tohto človeka nikdy nebudem komentovať,” povedal Fico.,Pravda, 6 August 2009 

I have no interest in taking sides in this controversy, but the nature of the comment is worth some attention because, as sometimes happens (quite often in fact), a politician’s off-the-cuff remarks do an excellent job of summarizing how they think—and we too should think—about political competition.

Fico’s response follows this structure:

  1. A resolute moralism: “Dzurinda cannot be his conscience.”  Fico is a man of strong moral opinion.  He not only identifies his opponents as wrong, but also as morally flawed.  This is not particularly unusual among politicians, but it is strong in Fico’s case.  His is a tone of righteousness.
  2. An emphasis on corruption.  Fico’s first observation about Dzurinda is that “he lies”  Two phrases later, he reminds us of the scandals that were part of Dzurinda’s own period of government.  These are important:  not only was corruption an important theme for Fico (especially in 2002 but still to some extent in 2006) but his government’s own corruption scandals have caused the party to increase its emphasis on how bad corruption was under Dzurinda as a way of minimizing the current problems.
  3. An emphasis on economic injustice: “He gouged/stole.”  Fico’s best theme has been the overreach of Dzurinda’s economic reforms.  He has played this well and here he ties it in with the lying so that Dzurinda’s economic reforms presented not simply a different and incorrect economic formula but one which Dzurinda used for his own gain and with wanton disregard for (or indeed active malice against)  the average Slovak.
  4. An emphasis on patriotism.  Dzurinda not only hurt the economy but he did so deliberately to the benefit of foreign interests.  Two phrases later Fico suggests an even deeper lack of national feeling in Dzurinda dating back to the early 1990’s.  Dzurinda did not vote for the constitution (the final formal step toward independence), did not support “sovereignty” and did not even “want Slovakia” (phrasing which implies an even deeper antipathy than saying that he did not want “want an independent Slovakia.”  The vehemence of this critique should not surprise me, but it does, as it is so deeply resonant of the critiques of Dzurinda’s then-party, KDH, in the 1990’s by Meciar’s HZDS (back when Dzurinda was a minor player), and particularly the word for sovereignty, “zvrchovanost” which had a particularly strong resonance for Meciar and his supporters.  Meciar sometimes (though admittedly less frequently) applied similar critiques of lack of patriotism toward Fico’s then-party, SDL (back when he was a minor player).  Now Meciar is all but out of the game, and it is Fico who is applying the critiques to Dzurinda. 

All of fits nicely with what many of us have discussed and claimed:  Slovakia’s party system has at least two dimensions—one economic, one national—and the last 20 years have been a competition to see which one would be most important.  Meciar turned the axis in the direction of the national and held it there for most of the 1990’s.  Dzurinda turned it back primarily to the economic and held it there for the first half of the 2000s, with Fico providing a big assist.  Now in government, Fico has sought to shift the basis of competition by a half turn, linking the economic with the national so as to produce a single axis of competition between pro-national, economically statist parties on the one hand and non-national, pro-market parties on the other hand.  The positions of the players differ slightly: The Hungarian parties push hard on national issues and care little about economics (but tend to be a bit more market oriented, a legacy from its past coalition partners and internal debates) whereas SDKU pushes some economic questions and stays away from national issues at all costs.  On the other side SNS pushes hard on the national side and cares little about economics whereas Smer still pushes economic questions and plays slightly softer and more socially acceptable national issues.  Whether this is permanent is an open question (like all questions I ask about Slovakia’s future…I’ve been wrong too many times), but for the moment Fico has hit on a winning formula and has no need to change it.

Other issues fight for prominence—some in KDH and all in KDS would like to see an emphasis on moral values, new parties and some in Smer continue to emphasize corruption—but these have yet to take hold in a fundamental way.  The values question probably has too little traction, for most Slovaks outside the (demographically declining) population of believers.  The corruption question is too hard to sustain because parties that get into power have a difficult time staying clean (and would have a difficult time persuading voters that they had stayed clean even if they could).

 Finally, two off-topic (but maybe not so minor) points:

  • It may or may not be a coincidence that he uses almost the same formulation—“from morning until night,” that Hungarian premier Gyurcsany used to describe his own party’s actions.   Comparing Dzurinda to a Hungarian would be a nice touch, but it may simply be a coincidence.
  • I am slightly shocked by Fico’s use of the word for lying—“ciganit”—which, though I may be mistaken, I do not recall hearing often from the mouths of politicians.  Not only is this particularly rough language but its relationship to the slang term for Roma, “cigan” makes it potentially problematic.  I know the word has taken on something of an independent existence in Slovak (much as “gyp” did in English) but it is hard to avoid the connection and it seems to be a word to avoid using.  It is perhaps particularly troubling to me because at a language law rally outside of parliament in 1995 I overheard a Meciar supporter talking to a friend about Dzurinda (at that moment speaking on the floor of parliament against the restrictive language law) and saying “Did you know he’s a Gypsy? (“cigan”).  Fourteen years later Slovakia has a new, relatively restrictive language law and Dzurinda is again likened to a “cigan” in the worst sense of the word.

European Parliament Elections: The Wonder of Wikipedia

Wikipedia hosts not only basic factual information regarding the recent elections but excellent analysis as well, particularly regarding the relative efficacy this time of preference voting with  3 out of 13 getting positions thanks to preference voting: Zaborska (KDH), Mikolasik (KDH) and Paska (SNS–though helped perhaps by his famous Smer namesake?).   Full information is here.,_2009_(Slovakia)

Thanks to a reader for pointing it out and…I suspect…for providing the said analysis.

European Parliament Elections, Slovakia 2009

A few initial thoughts (perhaps my only thoughts) on Slovakia’s Europarliament Elections.
In general there are few surprises here:  Smer wins, SDKU follows at at a great distance, along with SMK and KDH.  Perhaps the only superficial surprise is the apparent reversal of numbers for SNS and HZDS, but even this is not particularly surprising in light of other characteristics of these parties.  As usual, it helps to look at the results against the background of polls and the previous Euroelection.  Full election results with comparisons to 2004 and to various polls are here and in a table at the end.

First, how does this look in comparison to the last (i.e. first) Euroelections in Slovakia, held in 2004.  Turnout appears to be slightly up, but slightly up from the lowest in Europe is still just the lowest in Europe.  In terms of party results, I’ve created a series of charts that array the parties on the Y (vertical) axis in terms of past performance, according to a variety of markers and the X (horizontal) axis in terms of present performance in elections.  Do that for the 2004 and 2009 results and here’s what you get:


As is obvious, Smer does far better than before (over 30% compared with its disappointing under 20% in 2004), picking up 5 seats instead of its previous 3 and far outpacing the rest.  SDKU is next with results almost identical to those of 2004. Following a bit behind in a tight cluster are MK, KDH and HZDS, all performing worse than in 2004, by various margins and for various reasons (but more on that later) and then just above the 5% threshold, SNS.  All parties currently with seats in Slovakia’s parliament get Europarliament seats and no non-parliamentary parties make it across the threshold).

Clearly, by this standard 0f 2004 we have a major victory for Smer.  But there are other metrics.  A second way to look at this is to compare it to the most recent poll, does it beat expectations?  By that standard, this is what we get:


Smer and SNS do worse than expected, SNS by a slightly smaller raw percentage but a much higher relative share.  SMK does slightly worse than expected while KDH, HZDS and SAS do better.  What explains these differences?  Two of the three parties that did worse than expected also have the reputation (backed up by some research I’ve done) for weaker than average organizations.  In a low turnout election, organization makes a difference.  KDH and HZDS both have better than average organizations and and relatively stable, older than average electorates who dutifully turn out to vote.  SMK is also fairly well organized, but the party is currently in the midst of major turmoil (more here and more from me later).  The interesting addition to this list is SaS–Sulik’s Freedom and Solidarity.  New parties in Slovakia have rarely developed organizations that could push turnout in this kind of election, but Sulik appears to have made effective use of online social networks and other similar structures to mobilize young, educated voters who might otherwise stay home.  The bad news for SaS is that they just barely missed the chance to shake things up by getting a seat that would gain them some visibility and the same techniques will not have the same impact in higher turnout parliamentary elections in 2010.  Still, SaS will comes out of this strengthened vis-a-vis other small social-liberal parties (SF and Liga with quite bad performances, and the Greens not moving beyond their very small base) and has an opportunity to pick up the “disaffected SDKU” vote.  OKS-KDS did better than the previous year: Palko’s presence helped, no doubt, as the only party leader on the ballot of any party, but the party’s inability to push much beyond 2% in this election does not bode well for 2010.  KSS continues to hover around 1.5%, as it does in the polls, without much immediate hope of revival.

Finally, we can look at these results against the general recent performance of parties at the national level, averaging scores from FOCUS polls (now the only major one left that reports results fully and regularly) since the beginning of the year:


The results here are not wildly different from the previous graph, but it does suggest some cause for concern by Smer.  A 32% result in the Euroelections is great if it is double that of your next largest competitor, but slightly worrisome if it is 14% lower than the party’s average for the year to date.  Of course this is a low turnout election (this happened to Smer before in 2004, and even worse) but 2010 may not be particularly high either.  As with the presidential election, the results suggest that even with rather poor political play, the right wing manages to do better in elections than in the opinion polls (which show SDKU, SMK and KDH hovering around 30%-35%.  For now Smer is so far ahead that this makes little difference, but the party cannot afford to be complacent, especially, unlike its predecessor HZDS which once found itself in a similar position, Smer does not have such a strong organizational base to fall back upon.

The actual numbers are available online at Google Docs:


And the most recent three months are below in tabular format (using “iframe” which may not work on all browsers).

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The main points are above, but in the process of making them, I made a few others that I don’t want to waste.  First, the polls v. results that parallels the one above.


Here we see Smer’s slightly worse-than-expected performance and the dramatically better-than-expected performance of SDKU and KDH in 2004.  This is even more apparent in the poll average graph:


By this standard, 2004 really was a negative shock for Smer and a hugely unexpected bonus for KDH and SDKU and even to some extent for MK.  Here we see the “party organization” factor in full effect.

Finally, a graph that has nothing to do with the Euroelections but was calculated incidentally.  Still, it’s striking in what it shows:


This blog has been talking about shifts in public opinion for some time, but this provides a great time-lapse image.  Smer is way up.  SDKU is up (though up over its polling numbers while in government rather than its actual election figures) as is SNS (though in 2004 it was coming off a disastrous couple of years after the PSNS split.  Its historical figures are actually around this level).  KDH is remarkably stable over time and has been since the mid-1990’s.  The losers are the small parties: KSS and ANO falling from electoral viability to near-death and HZDS falling from near-front runner to barely viable.  Amid all of this perhaps the most striking thing to me is the negative movement of MK.  This is a party which, except for actuarial reasons, should not move at all and yet it has fallen by several points.  Some of this may be the loss of a few Slovak voters who in 2004 still saw it as a clean alternative to the other members of Dzurinda’s then-coalition, but the party’s drop over the last 2 years suggests that it is due to poor politics.  Now we shall see what happens when there is an alternative party, but that is a topic for the next post.

Chickens, roosting

I was intrigued to see stories about a recent Fico appearance, particularly one in HNOnline entitled, “Fico: There is an artificially created impression that every politician is a thief.”

Fico: They have artificially created the impression that every politician is a thief

How did that impression get created?  I have a partial theory:

As they stole

The points Fico raises in the article are not at all inappropriate:  Politics is hard work and the “perks” of politics in many cases only amount to an amelioration of difficult working conditions (being a good politician–as Fico is–is probably easier than working in a mine, but the hours are long and the demands and stresses are extremely high).  As a political figure who does not appear to be using the office for personal financial gain, Fico must be particularly incensed.  Yet he did not shy away from such attacks while he was attempting to gain power and he must bear some of the responsibility for his own difficult circumstances.

The broader issue here is the question of corruption in the electoral politics of postcommunist countries (and elsewhere as well).  When corruption levels are high (or are perceived as high), corruption becomes an issue in itself and becomes for ambitious politicians to gain support (especially ambitious politicians who have not engaged in obvious corruption themselves).  This is often a pyrrhic victory, however, since success puts those same leaders in the sights of their own weapons: even if they stay clean, their associates may succumb to the temptation, and even if they do not, it is often difficult to persuade voters that the new boss is any different from the old boss, especially when they ride around in the same dark, powerful sedans.  And it is not suprising that Fico, even at the top of his electoral game, feels pressure from precisely the sense of cynicism toward elected officials that he participated in creating, the same sense that allegedly produced somebody to amend the above-mentioned Fico billboard to read “…and so they will also steal under me”

For more on the famous (in Slovakia) Fico advertisement, see:

For more on the dynamics of anti-corruption campaining, see: