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Slovakia – Coalition under Stress

Barely a year has elapsed since the multi-party coalition government headed by Prime Minister Róbert Fico’s Smer took charge, and the evident tensions among the ideologically diverse partners point to a risk that the government could fall apart before completing its four-year term in 2020, and possibly even before the next presidential election is held in 2019. Intra-government sniping is an inherent feature of Slovakian politics, but relations are especially strained at present, as the coalition partners grapple with the issues of immigration, unemployment, and regional economic disparities, which have created a political opening for the far right.
The government’s vulnerability to instability has been increased by the demise of SIEŤ, one of the three parties that teamed up with Smer to form the government following last year’s elections. The governing alliance currently controls 79 seats in the 150-member Parliament, and the two remaining junior partners, the ethnic-Hungarian Most-Híd and the nationalist-right SNS, are uncomfortable bedfellows.
The government has managed to pass some minor reforms since its formation last year, including a new law intended to improve transparency in business dealings between the state and the private sector, but it has clearly not done enough to satisfy those who are critical of politicians enriching themselves at the taxpayer’s expense. A mass demonstration against government corruption held in the capital in April featured demands for the resignation of both Prime Minister Fico and his deputy, Robert Kaliňák, who has come under a cloud of suspicion stemming from his ties to a shady property developer.
Fico’s party continues to top the polls by a comfortable margin, but the liberal SAS has narrowed Smer’s lead to less than 10 percentage points, a result largely attributable to SAS leader Richard Sulík’s effectiveness as a voice against the rising tide of nationalist populism. Moreover, President Andrej Kiska’s endorsement of the mass protest held in April highlights the extent to which anti-establishment sentiment is spreading into the political mainstream. Another demonstration planned for June bears watching, especially given the heavy presence of young voters, who in general display a greater attraction to extremist alternatives to the mainstream parties, among the organizers.
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