Slovak Parliamentary Election: Killed Journalists and Unstable Governments

On 29 February 2019, 4,450,000 eligible voters in Slovakia will have the opportunity to elect the 150 members of the unicameral Slovakian national parliament, known as the National Council of Slovak Republic. Members of Parliament (MPs) will be elected in a single, nation-wide constituency by proportional representation. The election threshold is 5% for single parties and 7% for coalitions.

Most recent opinion polls show that Smer (S&D) is likely to remain the strongest political party, with centre-right OL’aNO (EPP) becoming the second largest party, followed by far-right extremist L’SNS (NI). The margin between the three biggest parties is likely to be relatively small, the latest two polls putting Smer at around 17%, OL’aNO at 13-16% and L’SNS at 10-12%.

Background—a tumultuous term

The current government is formed out of three parties: the centre-left Smer (S&D), the centre-right Most (EPP) and the national conservative SNS (*→ECR). The government was formed  by four parties after the 2016 election and back then included the centre-right Sieť (*→EPP) too. However, after Sieť’s chairman decided to form a government with Smer, several Siet’ MPs left the party and it eventually collapsed, with most government-supporting MPs defecting to Most. The coalition survived up to today, although it lost several MPs—mainly from Most—due to scandals and dissatisfaction with the government.

It is important to note a major change in the government that occurred in March 2018, after the murder of an investigative journalist Ján Kuciak, resulting in the resignation of the Prime Minister Robert Fico and his replacement by Peter Pellegrini, both Smer. The investigation into the murder of J. Kuciak revealed links between oligarchs, politicians and public officials, mainly linked to the centre-left Smer. Thus, the political crisis that resulted in the aftermath the murder of Kuciak remains alive as the investigation is still on-going.

25 parties are standing in the election. Out of those, 13 are polling at 3% or more in the latest opinion polls. As noted earlier, the threshold is 5%, or 7% for coalitions, thought there is only one coalition standing in this election—the centrist PS/S (RE|EPP).

The polling average ahead of Slovakian Parliamentary Election

Polling trends since the last election

In terms of individual parties, several trends can be observed since the 2016 election.

The centre-left Smer (S&D) managed to keep most of its supporters until the government crisis began in aftermath of the murder of the investigative journalist Ján Kuciak, when Smer started to decline steadily towards 20%. The party managed to bounce up to 22-23% after the government reshuffle, however, the investigation connected to the murder revealed new facts and connections between oligarchs and Smer’s politicians and political nominees, resulting in further decline. Today, Smer is polling at around 17-18%.

Libertarian SaS (ECR) won 12.1% of the vote share in 2016. As the largest opposition party, SaS increased its popularity, polling at a record high of 18% in late 2017. However, the party started to decline in 2018, shortly after the creation of liberal PS-RE and centrist Spolu-EPP. The decline continued further after PS’s candidate Zuzana Čaputová won the Presidential Election, SaS’s internal conflicts came to the fore, PS/S-RE|EPP formed a coalition and won the European Parliamentary Election 2019. SaS is currently polling at around 5-6%.

Centre-right and anti-establishment OL’aNO (EPP) won 11% of the vote share in 2016. The party slightly declined in the opinion polls after the election, but it succeeded in constantly attracting at least 8-10% of the electorate until mid-2019. The party started to decrease towards 5-6% as a result of the rise of the centrist PS/S coalition and the creation of a new centrist ZL’ (*→EPP). However, OL’aNO started to ‘bounce back’ after the campaign launch, and it is currently the second-largest party in opinion polls, polling comfortably at 14-16%.

National-conservative SNS (*-ECR) won 8.6% of the vote share in 2016. The party became a junior coalition partner in the Smer-led government and started to gain popularity after the formation of the government, receiving up to 14-15% in opinion polls the following year. However, several scandals detrimental to the party took place in 2017 & 2018, resulting in a steady and continuous decline down to around 6-7%. The party declined further in 2019 and 2020 as a result of another scandal regarding the party’s chairman. SNS is currently polling at around 5%.

Want to know what the parties stand for? See our attached document outlining the party descriptions and roughly placing them in political compass here.

Far-right extremist L’SNS (NI) won 8% of the vote share in 2016, causing a shock and upset due to its extremist ideology and sympathy with the Slovak regime of the second world war—a client state of the Nazi Germany. After the election, L’SNS increased its support, and has been polling steadily at around 10-14% ever since the 2016 election took place. Some political scientists believe that if Smer declines further and L’SNS maximises its support amongst the anti-establishment voters, it could potentially even win the election with around 15% of the vote share.

Right-wing SR (ID) won 6.6% of the vote share in 2016. The party had been continuously polling at 6-8%, peaking at 10-11% in 2018 and early 2019. However, support of the party declined back to 7-8% after its unsuccessful Presidential campaign in early 2019 and unsuccessful attempt to win seats in the European Parliamentary Election in May 2019. SR is currently polling at around 6-8%.

Centre-right Most (EPP) won 6.5% of the vote share in 2016. After the election, Most was continuously polling at around 6-7%. However, similarly to its coalition partners Smer and SNS, it started to decline in 2018 after the murder of journalist Kuciak and the political crisis that followed. Declining support of Most is attributed to the fact that it is a junior coalition partner in a government led by Smer and SNS. Most is currently polling at 4-5%.

Centrist Sieť’s (*→EPP) lifespan was short-lived, which is not an unusual occurrence in Slovakia or the region as a whole. The party de-facto collapsed shortly after the election due to the formation of the coalition government led by Smer.

The centrist coalition PS/S (RE|EPP) did not contest the previous election. The coalition was formed out of two new parties—PS and S—prior to the European Parliamentary Election in 2019. The parties started to appear in opinion polls at the beginning of 2018, and until 2019, their combined vote share totalled 7-9%. After the parties formed a coalition, PS’s candidate won the Presidential election and in the European Parliamentary election, the coalition surged up to around 14-17%. However, the coalition has started to decline in opinion polls after the creation of centrist ZL’, as they both target a similar voting demographic. Therefore, as the ZL’ increased in opinion polls, PS/S decreased. The coalition currently polls at 9-10%.

Centrist ZL’ (*→EPP) did not contest the previous election either. The party started to appear in opinion polls in late summer 2019. It was created by the ex-President Kiska and instantly received 5% in opinion polls, continuously growing up to a record high of 13% in November 2019. However, the party started to decline in opinion polls this year, polling at around 8-9% in most recent opinion polls due to the fact that some of ZL’s supporters simply switched back to OL’aNO, as OL’aNO increased every time ZL’ decreased in opinion polls.

What is expected on Saturday?

Looking at the latest opinion polls that have been released during recent weeks, it is quite difficult to make a certain prediction.  However, it is very likely that the main opposition consisting of OL’aNO, PS/S, ZL’, SaS, KDH and possibly SR, will be able to form a government after the election. The 5% threshold will be the major obstacle as two of these parties—the libertarian SaS and centre-right KDH—are currently polling at 5-6%. If the opposition manages to form a government, it is going to be a wide government formed by five or six parties. Should KDH or SaS not be able to cross the threshold, the opposition might struggle to win over a majority, 76,  of seats.

It is quite unlikely that Smer would be able to form the next government unless at least two opposition parties, such as KDH or SaS, fail to cross the electoral threshold. In that case, Smer could decide to make a pact with SNS—should it cross the threshold—and gain “silent” support from L’SNS. However, such a cooperation is currently rejected by Smer, although many political commentators do see it as a possibility, citing recent voting patterns in the Parliament.

In the end it is likely that the government will be formed out of the opposition parties. However, the moratorium of 14 days on opinion polls makes the exact prediction difficult. Many voters make their choice just before or on the election day. Some voters who have made their choice are still not fully certain and likely to change their mind. The last poll by AKO revealed that 70% of voters are planning to turn up. Out of those, 5% declined to reveal their preference and 20% said that they still have not made a decision.

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