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Thank you, Vaclav Havel

I know no better way to mourn the death Vaclav Havel to remember the congratulations on his birth that friends snuck past censors back in 1989.  Then they wished him health and continued success.  Now I thank him for that success–success I not in his fame or political success but in his constant attempt to live honestly and responsibly, whether as prisoner or president–and I extend to him my vague hope that effort to live in truth somehow endures after death.

havel closeup1

“On the day 5 October 1989 Ferdinand Vanek of Maly Hrad celebrated his birthday.  Thanks to him for the hard work which he has done in in his life and continues to do, and his friends and co-workers wish him many more years of health and further success in his work.”

Thanks to my student Daniela Brabcova from Plzen who knew enough about Havel to spot this gem when it came out, kept a copy and shared it with me in the spring of 1991. More here: http://www.pozorblog.com/2009/10/it-was-twenty-years-ago-today-or-the-audacity-of-hoax-prequel/.

What little they have shall be taken away from them

While it has not always been easy to feel sorry for Vladimir Meciar’s Movement for a Democratic Society, this week’s FOCUS poll offers yet another way in which insult has added to injury.  I have waited for some time for the results of the October FOCUS poll and when it did not come out around the end of October, I guessed that the firm had waited for things to settle down rather than conduct a poll during the collapse of a government.  Yesterday’s early release of November numbers seemed to confirm that, but a look at the actual FOCUS press release reveals that they /did/ conduct an October poll and simply did not release it during the turmoil.  So now we have yet another set of numbers.  For the most part these are nothing interesting, falling roughly in between the numbers for September and those for November, but in one case they are quite different: in October 4.7% of respondents opted for Meciar’s HZDS.  Does this mean anything?    Probably not, since the month before it got 3% and the month after it got 2.5%.  But the only reason it was ignored is that we did not get the October numbers until after we got the November ones which showed October to be simply an irrelevant blip.

I take two things from this:

First, I have commented frequently on the tendency of the Slovak press (and to be fair, the press of any country) to treat polls as if they are a real, actual indicator of political attitude rather than simply a sample that must be understood in context of other samples.   The Slovak press ignores blips only if they are clearly just that, but without context we have a harder time knowing whether they are simply a blip.  With context, we can make a better judgement.  Had I in October received the news of a 4.7% score for HZDS, I would have looked at the numbers and said a) This is at least a full point out of line for HZDS for FOCUS polls and a reversal of the trendline and b) all of the other polls are mixed, showing either a small rise or none at all.  I hope I would then have said, “this is probably a blip” and then taken the easy way out by saying “time will tell.”  Had the Slovak press received this news in October, I would not have been surprised to read a headline saying “HZDS back in the game” (though to be fair the article might have contained somewhere below the fold a quotation from one of the usual suspects of Slovakia’s political commentary that said “this is probably just a blip but time will tell.”)

Second, I take from this a sign that HZDS simply cannot get a break these days:  after months of irrelevance its one (in-retrospect meaningless) piece of good news, a story that might have helped its chances at election (by persuading some people that it had a chance at election) gets wiped out by a change of government.  Alas.

Volby 2012: FOCUS poll actually does show what Slovak press says it does… but context matters more

According to press reports in SME and Pravda, the most recent FOCUS poll shows the party Smer-SD with a commanding lead and the capacity to gain a majority of seats in parliament.  And for once those press reports are correct.  This does not mean that Smer will win the majority, but this FOCUS poll is a fairly strong sign of the party’s raw level of support.

Three quick points:

  • First, this is the first time I have seen a convincing suggestion of the possibility of a one-party government for Smer, because here Smer manages to go above 75 even without have all other factors in its favor.  In many scenarios, Smer is able to get into power on its own only if all of the small parties (including SNS) should fail.  In this case, however, Smer’s gains its majority at the same time that SNS narrowly beats the threshold.  I would still put the odds well against this outcome, but I am now at least willing to take it seriously.
  • Second, it points to the relative role of the two factors that will affect Smer’s success: it’s own level of support and the support of those around it, particularly those near the threshold.  Smer’s 45.1% in November translated into 79 seats while its only slightly lower performance in previous FOCUS poll in October–43.1%–translated into only 70 seats.  Why the 9-seat difference?  The 2% rise in Smer’s preference actually contributed only 2 or 3 seats and would not alone have given the party a clear majority.   What is crucial here is that in the November poll 13.8% of the population supported parties that did not exceed the 5% threshold, whereas in October the share was only 7.4%.  That, plus a few small differences in the way the opposition vote is distributed explains 5-6 of Smer’s seat total.  In a rather literal sense here, it is not the size of the Smer vote, but the motion of the small waves around it that make a difference.  
  • Third, it is worth noting that if Smer becomes convinced that it can achieve a consistently high level of support at this level, it may begin take a different approach toward SNS.  In 2010 Smer’s failure to form a goverment had quite a bit to do with the significant drops of both SNS and HZDS–drops that Smer helped to encourage–and its inability to find other partners.  According to that thinking, Smer has clearly set out to make sure that other parties might consider it (particularly Most-Hid and perhaps KDH or even SDKU), but it has always kept SNS in its pocket as well, if only as a bargaining chip.  According to the current FOCUS scenario, however, at any level of Smer support above 35%, the failure of SNS to pass the 5% threshold actually help Smer, because half of the 8 seats that would have gone to SNS go to Smer and raise it to majority status.  It might be a bit too early for Smer to gamble on undercutting its closest political partner, however, because as the previous point suggests, relatively minor changes in circumstances have a big effect on the level at which SNS goes from hindrance to help.  Even having both Hungarian parties exceed the 5% threshold would give Smer pause, since in that case Smer would need over 41% to be able to regard SNS as a hindrance.   But don’t take my word for it: try your own scenarios in the online calculator: online results calculator.

Slovakia Party Tree 2011

Thanks to Sme for publishing a nice version of my 2010 Party Tree diagram (the tree is a helpful format I’ve been using for the last decade and first posted here in 2008) .   I wish SME had asked me though, as there is a newer version that might have saved them some work (I try to keep this up to date).  Attached below are my updated graphic and table (click to expand them to readable size).  They are not as pretty as Smer’s, but they have more information (and my graph does not cast Smer as “Red”).  A pdf version is here: Slovak Party Tree 2011.

Family Tree and Data for Slovakia’s Political Parties, 1990-2011

I must say, though, that I am much taken with another version “mapastran”, which I am ashamed I had not seen.  I am much taken for its sheer attractiveness and inclusion of information which is not in my version.  Check it out at :  http://www.mapastran.sk).

 

 

 

Slovakia Polling Update, November 2: MVK and Polis

In the wake of the fall of the government, we’ve now gotten a few new polls from firms that are less frequent to offer them, particularly Polis (last week) and MVK (t0day).  Despite the headlines which regard these as items of “news,” both of these are interesting in the ways that they show very little shift.  Full results are on the dashboard, but a few thoughts without the fanciness of including party logos.

First, it is notable that in the last two elections Polis has produced results closer to the actual outcome than any other firm.  MVK has done rather worse, with some quite significant problems.  This does not undercut MVK a priori, but it does suggest caution regarding any trends that appear only in MVK data.

Now on to the party-by-party:

  • Smer shows stable preferences in both of the new polls but the difference is quite significant: high 30′s in MVK and mid-40′s in Polis, a difference of about 20 percentage points.  FOCUS and Median have tended to side with Polis in this, suggesting that the actual share of  preferences may not be as low as MVK finds, though how this plays out in terms of turnout could be a different story.
  • SNS is also stable for both, with a slight decline for both MVK and Polis.  But since SNS was already below the threshold for both, its absence from parliament according to these predictions is relatively old news.  FOCUS and Median, however, tend to put SNS above the threshold, allowing it a strong claim to the status of “most uncertain.”
  • HZDS is also stable in both.  Stable here, however, is extremely bad news for the party which appears to have flatlined around 3%.  Jumpstarting the heart here looks unlikely.
  • SDKU shows a big post-Euroval drop, probably not due here to the news about Radicova’s departure from the party (which hadn’t yet become public when the polls were taken) but due to its inability to master the difficulties of a difficult coalition (and perhaps, though I can’t say) because of the return to prominence of Miklos and Dzurinda…  It is fascinating to me that one of the questions in SME’s betting pool is “will SaS get more votes than SDKU” and that at present a significant number of bettors say “yes.”
  • Toward that end, SaS does show a big leap in both polls (as it did in last month’s FOCUS poll.  The party may really have figured this one out in the short run, finding an issue to resurrect its long slow slide to obscurity (a la ZRS, SOP, ANO, VV).  Whether it pays in the long run depends on who gets to form the next coalition, but even there it is hard to expect that a right wing coalition would rather go with Fico than SaS, however unreliable it may seem.
  • KDH maintains its stable 9% with no clear patterns.  This one seems simply to depend on the polling and who’s at home on a given day.  I wonder, though, if the party will be able to maintain that stability if it goes into coalition with Smer, something party leaders are not now ruling out.
  • With the Hungarian parties there is a drop for Most-Hid and a bit of a drop for MKP-SMK as well.  The real question here, however, is the relative strength and ability to cross 5%.  On this Most-Hid still seems to have the upper hand, but there will be a lot of strategic voters on election day who could tolerate either one and will be voting to get the other one in.  The problem comes if too many do that and the leader then falls short (as may have happened with last-minute shifts from SKM to underdog Most-Hid in 2010) .  For the moment the two parties have rejected coalition so they may be willing to risk defeat for the possible chance of a significant gain.

None of these results provide much new information.   Except for the recovery by SaS (which may fade) not much has changed from previous months.  That in itself may be news.  And so (to a lesser degree) is the fact that this blog is going ot have to change to offier placements and lines in the graph for the new parties Ordinary People (OL) and Nation and Justice (NAS) which are going to need their own lines and pages.  Both appear in the new MVK poll (MVK had included them even before their formal registry and while neither would make it into parliament, both appear to have a dampening effect on related parties: OL gets nearly 4%, while NAS gets 1%.  More on that in another post.

Post-Halloween Edition: Vlad the Impaled

I’ve wanted to post this for some time but did not dare to do so until I knew it would work out. Now it has and I can reveal the identity of the guest in yesterday’s Democracy class:

But before you say, “what a bad Photoshop job!” you should know that I would never stoop that low to put myself into a picture with a famous person.  I might, however, resort to this:

More complicated?  Sure, but much more practical for Trick-or-Treat (and for classroom dialogs about Russia).
But, you might ask, “Where can I get a cardboard cutout of Putin to use in my own quest to scare adults and/or engage students in discussion?”  Well you could try one of the many vastly overpriced cardboard cutout vendors online, or you could find a high-rez picture of Putin, photoshop out the background, print it across multiple sheets, arrange them on a piece of cardboard, secure them with spray adhesive and add a stick. 

Since that’s too complicated for all but the most obsessive (of which I am obviously one), I offer below a completed version of the first 3 steps: your-own-life-sized-putin-cutout.pdf.*  Print out pages 2,5,6,7,8 for the short form, or add 9-20 for the long (if not quite full length) version.  Just print out, add cardboard, and stick, and voilà.  

*Wetsuit, equestrian and tiger-tranquilizing gun outfits sold separately.

I realize that this introduces a significant gender bias to the costumes, so I promise that by next Halloween I’ll finish the long-awaited Yulia-Tymoshenko-in-a-leather-space-suit cutout, though at the moment of my writing, the space available to her is rather smaller.

 


 

Credits:  While I am the proud owner of the Tymoshenko poster, I am thankful to Dominic Nonni for snapping the picture at the top and to the Slovenian Press Agency for putting its pictures in the public domain under a Creative Commons license (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Vladimir_Putin_in_Slovenia_in_2011_(11).jpg), though perhaps they just want everybody to see how Prime Minister Pahor towers over Prime Minister Putin.

 

Slovakia, what comes next? Scenarios and results generator.

I always bury the lead in these stories and I’m trying not to, so here’s the four sentence summary:

According to current polls Smer is likely to be able to form a government with SNS and would almost be able to form one on its own, but polls are often misleading and obscure narrow margins (particularly with regard to the 5% electoral threshold).  The post below details how I produced several scenarios and a scenario calculator which suggest that the most important role will be played by Smer’s margin (43% produces very different results than 35%) and by the likelihood of some parties to push related parties below the threshold (SNS and Belosouvova’s NaS, SaS and Matovic’s OL) and the ability of others to reach some kind of agreement (the Hungarian parties).  The parties of the Radicova government can theoretically return to government but they will need good luck in the form of some combination of poor Smer results, mutually-assured-destruction among the nationalist parties, and lack of similar MAD by SaS/OL and the Hungarian parties.  But don’t take my word for it: at the bottom of the post is a link to a spreadsheet where you can try your own assumptions.

Now for the interesting (but usually only to me and a few other poor souls) details

I live for elections and while it’s always a bit melancholy to see a government fall (some more than others), it also means a new chance to look at the numbers and think about what they mean.  I’ve been channeling my inner Sabermetrician in the last few day and have started to put together some very rough models that might help us think about the important factors in Slovakia’s upcoming elections.  For Slovakia this means thinking about the relationship between polling numbers and votes, shifts in polling numbers over time, the potential for coalition formation and each party’s chance of crossing the 5% threshold.  While it would be possible to start anywhere, I think we can take a few things as given (at the moment–but I promise to revisit them) and take an initial probe into the rest.  For now I will leave aside the question of coalition formation and simply assume that the easiest coalition partners for Fico’s Smer are the Slovak National Party (SNS), or the smaller Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) or the new Nation and Justice (NaS), and that (with the potential exception of Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) all the other major parties are capable of making a coalition with one another.  I will also leave aside the question of poll predictiveness because as I found in an analysis conducted before the 2010 (which I will soon repeat using the data from 2010 as well), the predictiveness of poll numbers is actually at its worst about 5-7 months before an election (and there are just under 5 months left until the 10 March 2012 election).  What’s left to us in this case?  The inter-related questions of translation of poll numbers into actual voting statistics and some considerations about the ability of particular parties to cross the 5% threshold. And even with only those two factors at hand the situation is still remarkably complex.

The main cause of complexity is the relatively large number of parties that might be expected to come close to the 5% threshold.  In my estimation there are only three parties for whom the threshold question is not in doubt:  Smer, the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKU) and the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH).  Far more questionable are the prospects of eight additional parties: SaS, SNS, Most-Hid, MKP/SMK, HZDS and perhaps also SDL, along with two emerging parties, Ordinary People (OL) and Nation and Justice (NaS).   Assuming that any of these parties might or might not pass the threshhold, there are 2^8 or 256 possible combinations of threshold passage among these 8.  As much as I like playing amateurishly with numbers, that is more than I want to deal with.  I will therefore make two simplifications.

  • First, the range for Hungarian parties is between 2 and 1, not between 2, 1 and 0.  Slovakia has two parties appealing to its Hungarian electorate: Bridge (Most-Hid) and the Party of the Hungarian Coalition (MKP/SMK) but since the Hungarian electorate constitutes approximately 11% of the total, it is mathematically impossible that both will fall below the threshold unless there is some suppression of the Hungarian vote or Hungarians opt for other parties.  Neither seems likely, so I will limit the four options to two.
  • Second, because HZDS has never yet shown an increase in its share from one election to the next, I will therefore eliminate it from the list, and further justify this with the additional argument that it is unlikely to see the rise of both HZDS and NaS.  If HZDS manages to pull it together (unlikely–Meciar has been utterly silent during the whole crisis–either that or, from his perspective worse, nobody’s bothering to ask him), you can substitute “HZDS”  for “NaS” and have more or less the same picture.

This brings our perumation count down 2^6 or 64, which is not small but workable.  We can bring it down a bit more by putting any options with SDL in the background for the moment.  The performance of the resurrected SDL surprised some in the last election, but since then the party has failed to sustain its preferences.  It could rise again–or another new party could rise again–but with NaS and OL running campaigns, the field looks rather crowded for yet another new party to jump in.

These choices bring us down to 32 options in the foreground and 32 in the background.

Having simplified, we need to add a bit of complexity (though not much).  The chances of each of these parties to pass the threshold is not independent of the others–especially of certain others.  Some of these small parties compete for votes with one another.  If one does well the likelihood is that the other will do poorly.  I’ve therefore made certain overall “vote potential” estimates and certain baseline ratios for each combination.  The linked pairs are as follows:

  • Most-Hid and MKP/SMK.  I assume that the total electoral potential for these two parties is approximately 12% which I presume to be the total share of the vote received by the two if they form an electoral coalition or if both exceed the 5% threshold.  If one falls below 5%, I assume that it will do so narrowly and I give the winner in the “one Hungarian party” scenario 7%.
  • SNS and NaS.  I assume based on past experience that the total electoral potential for these two parties is about 8%.  If SNS does well, I assume that it will attract about 6% and NaS only 2%.  If both split evenly, I would assume them to both receive about 4%.  If NaS does well and SNS does not, I will assume a narrower margin, with NaS just above 5% and SNS at 3%.  I also leave open the possibility (though unlikely) that both parties will manage to squeak over the 5% threshold.
  • SaS and OL.  This one is a bit harder since OL, although it got elected on the SaS list, may appeal to some other voters including dissatisfied voters from Fico and Radicova alike.  But without the time and energy at the moment to calculate a more detailed assumption, I assume that these two parties together have an electoral potential of around 10% (again my least certain assumption).  If OL does not get it together, I assume a lopsided 8% to SaS and 2% to OL.  If OL manages somehow to displace SaS, I give OL 6% and SaS a residual 4%.  I also allow for scenarios in which both manage to exceed the threshold with just over 5% and in which both come close but fail just short of 5%.

These scenarios are not all equally likely of course, so we can also weight them.  Here again I have just gone ahead and made guesses:

  • I guess a fairly high probability that M0st-Hid and MKP-SMK will realize the danger of one falling short and make an electoral deal (while holding their respective noses), and there is also the chance that they will not but that they will run neck and neck as they are doing now and both make it over the threshold.  Together I give these two scenarios about a 70% probability and the “one-Hungarian-party” scenario about 30%
  • I guess that the most likely outcome on the nationalist side is the victory of SNS and poor performance of NaS–say 50%–but put my second bet on each cancelling out the other as they did in 2002–say 25%.  The remaining 25% I split between “both” at 20% (especially if both Slota and Belousovova can manage to get in some attacks on Fico related to the EFSF) and NaS only at around 5%.
  • Likewise, I give SaS an advantage in the last group and put the chances of its passing the threshold and leaving OL out at around 40%.  I put the chance of “neither” at around 30% and the chance of “both” at around 15%.  I think it is equally unlikely (but not impossible) that OL could seize the mantle of SaS and give it 15%.  All of this will be a lot clear in a month or so when we see the first polls.
  • Finally, I put the odds of another party–SDL or HZDS or something new–emerging and I put it at 5%.  The only caveat in this is the fairly unlikely but never-say-never possibility of a new party starring Iveta Radicova.  That would fundamentally change the balance of the race, but it would probably not shift things too much as it would simply tap the SDKU electoral base.  If that happens, I’ll come back and redo this analysis.

OK, finally, having guessed about vote share and and probabilities to each of these threshold possibilities, I must still make guesses about the vote share of the three larger parties if we are to make any assessment about what kinds of coalition are or are not possible.  I will use three scenarios.  One based on current polling numbers (Smer 43, SDKU 15, KDH 10), one based on the 2010 election numbers (Smer 35, SDKU 15, KDH 9) and one “from the gut” best guess which also happens to be a middle way between these (Smer 39, SDKU 16, KDH 9).   Here are the results (the full results in .pdf format here) and then an explanation:

 

What all of this means

  • With current polling numbers (Smer 43, SDKU 15, KDH 10), the only way that Fico won’t be able to muster an easy coalition with SNS is if SNS and NaS split the vote and keep both out of parliament.  Under these polling numbers and probability assumptions, a Smer-SNS (and/or NaS) coalition could expect an 83% chance of gaining a majority, with the size of that majority ranging 76 to 94 seats, averaging about 83 seats.  The opposition would have only about a 9% chance of gaining a slim majority and only if, in addition to the SNS-NaS self-destruction, the parties above the threshold included both Hungarian parties and also SaS or OL.  It is notable that Smer manages to achieve its own a 76 seat majority in 36% of these cases.
  • Using numbers from the 2010 election (Smer 35, SDKU 15, KDH 9), which are probably unrealistically low for Smer, the situation changes even further and the number of scenarios won actually shifts in favor of the parties of the Radicova government (56%) rather than a Smer-led coalition  with SNS or NaS (38%) or a Smer-only government (only 2%).  But the right would have little margin for error–to return to government it would two Hungarian parties in government along with SaS or OL, and a coalition that contained Radicova and Miklos/Dzurinda, and Figel, and Bugar, and Csaky, and Sulik and/or Matovic could not exactly be greeted with excitement.  Ironically the only way for the Radicova coalition to gain a majority without Sulik and/or Matovic (or Bugar and Csaky) is for the infighting at the nationalist pole to be even worse.  If 2010 results prevail, so might 2010-style politics.
  • If, however, past predictors are usable (and I am not sure that they are), Smer will perform worse than its 6-months-left-before-election poll numbers and SDKU will perform better.  This case (Smer 39, SDKU 16, KDH 9) resembles the scenario with 2010 numbers but even narrower margins.  The advantage here is to Smer (winning in 61% of scenarios over the current government’s 25% with quite a few ties).  Even if Smer’s numbers drop to this level it would still need two of the following three things to go wrong for it to lose a majority: 1) a unified front or even performance by the Hungarian parties and 2) success of SaS and/or OL in passing the threshold, and 3) Nationalist self-destruction.   This scenario would, however, cast some cold water on Smer’s stated hopes of governing alone (13% of the scenarios).
And in an unexpectedly simple twist (most things I do online prove unexpectedly complex) I have been able to upload the entire spreadsheet basis for this onto google documents so that anyone can go and modify any of the assumptions and see what would happen to the results.
I’m pretty excited about this because it really changes the kinds of things we’re capable of (a lot like the “D.I.Y. Electoral College Calculators” in the US.  I would ask only that if you modify the numbers, you change them back so that others can use the spreadsheet as you found it.  Thanks.

Finally, it is worth noting that polling numbers taken 5 months before an election in Slovakia have very little relation to the final result, so while there is a general stability in Slovakia’s preferences–they don’t shift by more than a few percentages in any direction over time, how those votes are split up among specific parties–especially small parties near the threshold–can really matter.  This is what keeps Slovakia’s politics (for better or worse) interesting.

Slovakia and the Euro Bailout: What happened? What next? The Long Version

Now that the dust has settled and the world has moved on to other things, it is time for a post-mortem of what happened.  (I wish, in retrospect, that time had permitted me to publish my pre-mortem which, because it revealed certain electoral incentives for SaS to hold its ground and not swerve in this game of chicken, was less inaccurate than my usual predictions.  Alas.).  In trying to figure out why the decision happened as it did (and then happened differently two days later) I think the best framework is Kaare Strom’s model of three party goals–votes, office and policy–which I modify here to take into account the international circumstances related to this of this vote.  For each party I offer a rather schematic four-arrow diagram that looks like the one below.

  • The arrow on the left (pointing right) refers in this case and that of all subsequent diagrams refers to the realm of policy seeking and addresses a party’s overall policy preferences, broadly defined.  These may depend on the preferences of the party leader or party leaders and activists together.  They may be unified or divided.
  • The arrow on the bottom (pointing up) refers to the realm of vote seeking and addresses the degree to which a party’s voters (and potential voters) support a particular step and the degree to which their preferences on that issue will shape their voting behavior
  • The arrow on the right (pointing left) refers to the realm of office seeking and discusses the degree to which a party’s position on the issue will affect its ability to gain or keep political office and/or to influence the other aspects of office-related decisions.
  • The arrow on the top (pointing down) refers to a fourth realm, often ignored in studies of domestic political behavior (often because it is not relevant) which addresses the degree of external pressure from international bodies, neighboring countries and other large institutions.
For each of the diagrams, the size of the arrow reflects the degree to which a particular factor is important in shaping a party’s position while the color of the arrow indicates the policy inclination of that factor:

  • Green – for approving the EFSF expansion
  • Red – against approving the EFSF expansion
  • Amber – mixed or ambiguous

With these annotations, I would suggest that the factors within Slovakia’s party system looked roughly as follows:

Multiple pressures against

Multiple pressures for

Mixed pressure

 

Let’s start with the easy cases and work toward the harder ones.

Slovak National Party (SNS)

SNS is a fairly easy party to assess in this regard because of its relative political isolation and narrow message.

  • Policy.  SNS will oppose anything that looks like transfer of authority outside of Slovakia’s borders and so opposition to the EFSF was a fairly simple position for the party, made easier by the fact that it can be argued to involve transfer of wealth from Slovakia to others “less deserving” and (this is genuinely a factor in the case of SNS) with swarthy skin tones.
  • Votes.  SNS might stand to gain in maintaining its opposition as the EFSF expansion has not gone beyond bare majority support in Slovakia’s population and because many of those who oppose the EFSF will not be attracted to other, more libertarian elements of the platform of the other EFSF opponent, SaS.  SNS stands to gain perhaps a tiny bit from disaffected Smer voters (if Smer supports the plan on the second round of voting) and from any anti-EU non-voters who turn out to vote next time.
  • Office.  SNS has very little to lose in opposing the vote since it is openly regarded as uncoalitionable by the members of Radicova’s coalition and can return to government only in tandem with Smer.  To the extent that this vote hastens early election and does so at a time when Smer is performing well and SNS faces a downward trend but has not yet fallen through the 5% threshold in most polls, (and also may hope to get the jump on the very recently-registered competitior Nation and Justice [NaS] rather than giving it time to develop) the current political circumstances give the party an incentive to oppose the EFSF expansion even if policy and electoral motives did not.
  • External Pressure.  SNS has no real partners abroad–indeed that would violate its basic tenets–and therefore is not subject to any pressure to go along.

All of this makes SNS’s “no” decision quite easy.  It was the only party whose members actually voted “no” rather than abstaining or absenting themselves.

Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKU)

SDKU, almost despite itself, faces pressures in favor of the EFSF.  Things would be a lot better for this party if the issue had never arisen.  But it did…

  • Policy.  SDKU has been one of the strongest supporters of European integration in Slovakia, and has pushed an integration-favorable policy at nearly every opportunity.  It has once in the past used an EU vote (the Lisbon Treaty) to force government changes when in opposition, but it was clear to note that it was a tactical move and that the party did not oppose the Treaty itself.  The party is therefore oriented toward going along and getting along with its European neighbors
  • Votes.  SDKU’s voters tend also to be among the most pro-Euro and pro-European in the country and it would be difficult to explain a “no” vote even if it were done for the sake of expediency.  The party’s voters also tend to have strong business or cultural relationships with the rest of the EU and might be expected to support cooperative decisions.
  • Office.  SDKU had little choice but to push this initiative, because to fail to do so once it was on the table would be to abandon any claim to leadership of the coalition.  In the end, the party was probably chose to risk tying the vote to a vote of confidence in the government, because the alternative–losing–would have been a de facto (if not de jure) vote in the same direction.  Staying in office–and staying in control while in office–were already put on the table as soon as this issue became significant.
  • External Pressure.  EU pressure plays a strong role–and would have played a strong role regardless of the party affiliation of the person who sat in the Prime Minister’s chair.  The PM more than anybody else faced the direct pressure from abroad, and the direct responsibility for the decision.  To abandon support for the EFSF when (as Radicova noted in her speech on the day of the vote) 16 other parliaments had said yes would have been extremely difficult and tantamount to self-exile from Europe.  Radicova faced pressure not only from its party group in Brussels but directly from heads of state across the region.  This would be a difficult force to oppose for any premier (and while it is an untestable hypothesis, even Fico might have bowed to this pressure at the expense of other goals.

Radicova faced pro-EFSF messages in every direction, particularly from the one source–abroad–that she faced more prominently than anybody else.

Christian Democratic Movement (KDH)

KDH tends to work closely with the SDKU, though not always–and they themselves have been responsible for a past vote of no confidence (though in that case it came at the end of a term and merely shortened the government’s duration by 3 months).  KDH faced similar pressures to those of SDKU but much lighter.

  • Policy.  KDH has not always been pro-EU on every issue, but the objections have tended to be cultural rather than financial, and KDH chair Jan Figel served previously as a European Commissioner and therefore tends to have strong ties with Brussels.  This perhaps does not amount to a sufficient cause to vote for the EFSF but it certainly helps.
  • Voters.  KDH voters likewise have expressed some disillusionment in the EU but as religious conservatives rather than as fiscal conservatives.  The party’s voters tend to think of themselves as Europeans (even if they have a slightly different idea of the meaning of “Europe.”  Its voters likely would have demanded an explanation for a “no” vote, though it is possible to envision a plausible response that would not have cost many voters.
  • Office.  As a junior coalition partner, KDH could have maintained its position with any vote that satisfied SDKU, but to the extent that SDKU needed a “yes,” so did KDH.  KDH has ruled out coalition with Fico and does not seem to change its mind any time soon.
  • External Pressure.  While not in the prime ministerial hot-seat, KDH has fairly close relationship with the European People’s Party and Figel has close ties to the European Commission, so external pressure might have helped keep the party supportive even if other factors did not point in the same direction.

While not as vulnerable on the issue, KDH faced incentives similar to those of SDKU and remained loyal on this question.

Most-Hid (Bridge)

Parliamentarians of Most-Hid also remained supportive of the EFSF, though if KDH’s reasons were a weaker reflection of SDKU’s, Most-Hid’s were weaker still.

  • Policy.  Most-Hid’s primary policy concern is Hungarians in Slovakia and this issue had little to do with that one, so the party had only residual “pro-Europe” policy sentiments to fall back on.  Those might have been enough even if there were no other influences.
  • Voters.  Most-Hid’s voters are not likely to shift their vote because of this issue and so the party is not much affected in this regard.
  • Office.  Most-Hid, like KDH, depended on SDKU’s remaining in office.  While it is not inconceivable that Most-Hid might form a coalition with Smer, it is unlikely, and it would require the absence from parliament of a Smer-friendly partner such as SNS.  Most-Hid thus needs the current coalition for its office-related goals and depended heavily on the decisions of SDKU.
  • External Pressure.  Like KDH, Most-Hid has fairly close connections with the EPP and probably faced a bit of pressure in that regard, though it likely was not decisive.
Also part of the Most-Hid parliamentary club were 4 members from the Civic Conservative Party, ethnic Slovaks who had at best a loose relationship to Most-Hid itself.  Of these one opted to support the coalition while the other three
So much for the relatively unconflicted parties.  Two other parties evince a more mixed structure of incentives, which I try to lay out below.
Freedom and Solidarity (SaS)SaS faced perhaps the most difficult choices in this conflict but after a considerable time in negotiation ended up opting for its initial policy orientation (though this may not have hurt its voter orientation–we shall see)

  • Policy.  From the beginning SaS announced its opposition to this bailout and it intensified its position over time, finally issuing an elaborate statement that called this “The Road to Socialism.”  It would appear that party leader Sulik genuinely regarded the EFSF as both a moral wrong (taking from the disciplined and giving to the lazy) and a practical mistake (since it wouldn’t work anyway).  Moral absolutes played a big role in his prounouncements and offer the best explanation for the party’s decision to hold its ground.
  • Voters.  Here the matter is more complicated and tied up with the office seeking goal, but the policy seeking goals should not be too sharply distinguished from the desire to appeal to voters who share those goals (and to prevent the exodus of those already supporting the party).  Sulik’s voters, while pro-Europe in the geographical and cultural sense, are not necessarily pro-European Union in the political sense (not unlike Vaclav Klaus in the Czech Republic), and by taking this course he may have cemented some of those relationships.  And since Sulik expects the mechanism to fail in practical terms, he may also expect that come March he will have a strong “I told you so” position on which to run (Thanks to Tim Haughton for bringing this aspect to my attention).  Securing voters is especially important for a party that started its life at 12% and quickly fell to around 7% (and lower in some polls) and has seen other similar parties around the region fail to return to parliament.  Having an issue that can cause voters to overlook the lack of other accomplishments (which are hard in a coalition government) and having elections sooner rather than later may allow SaS to stave off the “new-party-in-government” curse that has killed ZRS, SOP and ANO in Slovakia and many other new parties in other nearby countries.  The downside, however, is that in order to achieve this SaS had to be the one to bring down the government, which will leave it in bad odor with some even as it boosts its appeal with others.  The question is which will prevail.  For Sulik, I suspect the calculation was that voting no (even if it meant bringing down the government) would be an electoral plus (or at least electorally neutral).
  • Office. Even if this is an electoral plus, it must be understood at best as mixed in the realm of office seeking.  To bring early elections and provide itself with an issue, SaS had to end the only government that it could be part of, and do so at a time when that government’s overall poll ratings make it extremely likely to win the next election (more on that in the next post).  SaS may survive the next election, but it will not return to the government posts that it seeks unless the current government manages to overcome Fico’s popularity (something that won’t be helped by the collapse of the EFSF that Sulik may expects). Even if this happened, Sulik would also need the parties of the Radicova government to offer some sort of amnesty.  At present this seems far from likely, though it is hard to imagine that they would not relent if Sulik’s party held the balance of power in the next government.  Sulik’s oddly generous remarks about Radicova after the vote suggest either that he does not understand the intensity of feeling of the other side or that he is preparing the way for return to the fold, or both.
  • External pressure.  Unlike all of the other parties in Slovakia’s parliament except SNS, SaS does not have the formal presence of a Europarliament deputy in a well-organized European party structure.  It’s membership in the European Liberal Democrats thus has relatively little immediate impact (and a request from ELDR to change positions had no impact).
The actions of SaS here will significantly change its electoral and coalition parameters, though whether for the better remains to be seen.  Much may depend here on the actual success of the EFSF and of Smer.  If both perform poorly, Sulik may be in a position to return to government (albeit in bad odor), but if either does well, his chances for returning the party to the political position it had on 10/10/2011 will be much smaller.
Finally, there is one party in all of this that must be regarded, in the short run at least, as the big winner.  This party, too, had mixed incentives but managed to balance them well enough to achieve some major goals.

Before

After

Direction (Smer)For Smer the emergence of the EFSF question–an issue that like the recent debt ceiling question in the US could not easily be avoided and did itself allow a 50/50 compromise solution–provided signficant political opportunities without significant risks.

  • Policy.  Smer has announced its belief in the need for the EFSF, and so I will take this a policy preference on its part, though the principles for or against are less clearly embedded in the Smer program than they are in that of SaS, SNS or SDKU.  The real tension within Smer, I suspect, is between the nationally-oriented group (which might have some sympathy with Sulik and Slota on this) and the internationally oriented group tied to the business community (the party’s sponsors and some of its top echelon) for whom the Euro was a strong priority and who are dependent on its success for their own reputation and prosperity. This latter group won the day on the Euro and on a few other issues and appears dominant on nation-related economic questions, whereas the other group appears to have the upper hand in the party on nation-related cultural issues.  (Just a guess as it all rests ultimately in the hands of Fico).
  • Voters.  Polls showed Fico’s voters  to be slightly less supportive of EFSF than the average citizen of Slovakia but still relatively close to the mean.  The party has little to lose or gain on this from its voters, and while its decision to withhold its support from something it claimed it wanted–and then to give its support once the government had fallen–is potentially problematic in the minds of some, it is not clear that the average voter will mind or will question Fico’s claim that it was the government’s responsibility to achieve its majority before he would join in.  Voters thus played a relatively small role in Smer’s decision here except to the extent that Fico sought to return to them in an election as soon as possible by encouraging rifts in the current government.
  • Office.  Few of the incentive arrows are so clear as this one.  Smer currently has a significant lead in the polls, it seeks to return to office as soon as possible and the current coalition cannot find consensus on an issue that it cannot avoid discussing.  From the beginning Smer took the position that while it had a programmatic position on the issue (vote yes) it would not act on that position unless the government did first.  This can be taken either as a cynical ploy to force the government to unseat itself (which it did) or as a supra-programmatic position to allow the self-defeat of a government which Smer argued was bad for Slovakia.  Regardless of the normative evaluation, Smer’s desire for office gave it a clear incentive to withhold its yes vote.  And it did, until the government fell and then it had a fairly clear interest in supporting the EFSF immediately so that it would not have to deal with any of these questions should it soon find itself in government.  Thus Smer gets two sets of arrows above.
  • External Pressure.  Smer was not without pressure from outside, particularly from the Party of European Socialists which clearly wanted its affiliate in Slovakia to vote yes on the first round.  But Smer has demonstrated itself to be remarkably independent of its European party home, and if the party could resist PES pressure to change coalition partners, it could certainly resist the pressure here. That PES relented on the coalition issue and readmitted Smer with no change on Smer’s part can hardly have strengthened its hand here.
Smer in opposition has been dealt an excellent series of hands and has played them quite well.  At its upper levels It has developed into a well-organized and well-managed organization that knows how to take advantage of opportunities.  But though Fico seems healthier and more comfortable in the role of main opponent than of the lead executive, he and his party cannot resist pressure that pushes it toward the power and position that can only be achieved in government.  At present, it looks as if this is where the party is headed, though it must be noted that its high levels of support have a tendency to ebb when voters are faced with an actual choice in the polling place (or perhaps more significantly, with the choice to go out and enter the polling place).

Slovakia has used up about two of its 15 minutes of fame, and minus a minute used in the 1993 split, a few minutes used by Meciar in the mid-1990′s and some seconds devoted to its rapid turnaround, it probably has about eight minutes left.  At least it hasn’t yet shown any risk of wasting its fame on victory in the Eurovision Song Contest.

Guest Blogger Tim Haughton: “Being Talked About and Not Being Talked About” and the Eurozone Crisis in Slovakia

Tim Haughton

When the definitive history of the eurozone crisis is written Tuesday’s vote in the Slovak parliament will probably merit a line or just a footnote. In contrast, last month’s decision of the German parliament to back the bailout will no doubt take up a paragraph or a page. If Germany had rejected the bailout we would have returned to square one, but Slovakia’s ‘no’ merely delays the decision by a few days.

Markets move quickly, much more quickly than politicians. The euro fell on news of the fall of the Radicova government, but will in all probability bounce back in the coming days. Whilst there would not be that much enthusiasm for a return to power of Robert Fico in some international circles, there would be little fear; just a hope he would not jump into the coalition bed with Slota again.

In contrast, Richard Sulik, whom few beyond the small band of political scientists who follow Slovakia had heard of before last year’s elections, has become well known in recent weeks, even being the subject of a prominent profile in the eurocrats’ favourite weekly, the European Voice.

Not Tim Haughton (or Oscar Wilde)Oscar Wilde once wrote that there is only one thing worse than being talked about and that is not being talked about. But in international politics that isn’t always the case. Slovakia was prominent in the coverage of the three most influential dailies in Europe on Wednesday: Le Monde, the Financial Times and the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. Le Monde, for instance, bemoaned the political game being played in Slovakia, wondering in a linked article whether France’s AAA rating will survive the crisis. Sulik’s actions even caused ripples across the Atlantic where Slovakia was also the subject of articles in the New York Times and Washington Post.

There is some sympathy in international circles for Sulik’s position on the euro. The bailout is an imperfect mechanism designed to ensure the Greek mismanagement of their fiscal policy does not spread like a virus across the southern periphery of the Union. Few think the latest bailout is any more than the latest sticking plaster rather than a definitive solution. Sulik’s decision, however, to allow the Radicova government to fall so he has a clear conscience in front of his children, has not led to Sulik being hailed a hero apart from in the Daily Telegraph; it merely highlights both the weakness of eurozone governance and the willingness of some domestic politicians to risk the collapse of a coalition over a bailout package which will soon be superseded. It also casts doubt on the reliability of Slovak politicians.

Since the 1990s when Madeline Albright labeled Slovakia a ‘hole in the map of Europe’, the country’s image has improved markedly. Sulik’s decision and the fall of the Radicova government may soon be forgotten by international markets and journalists, but small states rarely appear in the international spotlight. The few occasions such states receive attention tend to shape the image of that country. Slovak politicians would be well advised to remember that when they play their domestic games.

Tim Haughton
SAIS Johns Hopkins University & Birmingham University

Slovakia and the Euro Bailout: What happened? What next? (Part II, Making a short story long)

Work in progress here, but I wanted to get out the first half while anybody was still interested.  Before I get to that, however, a bit of news:

Slovak media is reporting an agreement: Smer will support the EFSF package in a vote to be held Friday at the latest in return for early elections on March 10, 2012.

Those with no interest in Slovakia are now free to go.

If you’re still interested, know that Slovakia’s upcoming electoral environment is not far distant from its environment five months before the 2010 election (one that seems just months ago). The parties of the current opposition, the left-national Smer and far-national SNS (along with their ever-shrinking ally, Meciar’s HZDS) are together polling at a level that would secure them 82-84 seats, about 8 more than half. On one hand, this is actually /lower/ than level that the same parties polled at the same time distance ahead of the 2010 election. On the other hand at that time those parties were in government and liable for any and all scandals that emerged. This time the “incumbents” will be the parties that are now behind. Once again the key to the Slovak election results will be the performance of small parties. There are five parties hovering within 2 points of the 5% threshold: the Slovak National Party, the SaS (which just voted against the EFSF), Most-Hid (the Hungarian party in government), SMK-MKP (Most-Hid’s rival currently out of government but making up ground) and, probably out of contention but still hanging around, Meciar’s HZDS. There is also the spectre of at least two new parties: Igor Matovic’s Ordinary People (OL) (which emerged when OL delegates unexpectedly gained parliamentary seats on the SaS through extensive use of preference votes) and Anna Belousovova’s Nation and Justice (NaS), a splinter of SNS. Both of these just might have a chance of picking off disaffected voters.

Any combination of SNS, NAS or HZDS in parliament probably means a Fico government. The absence of all three would make a Fico government very difficult, but a non-Fico government that includes the members of the current coalition and SaS and/or SMK-MKP would require a lot of willingness to forgive recent, raw wounds.

I have now finished the unfinished analysis of 12 October and moved it here: