Slovakia – Smer Remains under a Cloud of Scandal
Robert Fico, the leader of the main governing Direction-Social Democracy (Smer), continues to roil the political waters, nine months after he resigned as prime minister, amid a scandal involving the murder of an investigative journalist digging into government corruption. Back in November, Fico inveighed against “clowns in the media” who had failed to acknowledge his party’s accomplishments, and used language that many critics interpreted as targeting journalists for violence.
The local elections held in November provided some indication that the air of scandal surrounding the government is hurting Fico’s party. Although Smer finished first, it put in a much weaker performance than four years ago, while independent candidates claimed victory in more than 42% of mayoral contests, including those in Bratislava and Košice, the country’s two largest cities. The result is indicative of strong anti-establishment sentiment that could have a significant impact on the outcome of the March 2019 presidential election, although Smer’s backing of Maroš Šefčovič, a career diplomat and a current vice president of the European Commission, may have sufficient “outsider” credibility to avoid being tainted by the party’s scandals.
The latest national polling suggests the parties in the governing coalition, which include the far-right SNS and the ethnic Hungarian Most-Híd, would fail to win a combined majority of seats in the event of an early election. Nevertheless, differences among the partners over the UN Global Compact for Migration are sowing tensions that could produce a collapse of the coalition before the expiration of its mandate in 2020. Other divisive issues include discontent within the Cabinet over the approval of a large increase in the military budget for the purchase of 14 new F-16 fighter aircraft, and a vote to fill vacancies on the constitutional court, an issue lent added political weight by indications that Fico is keen to claim one of the seats.
Based on the current polling trends, as many as seven parties could achieve the 5% vote share required to qualify for parliamentary representation at an early election. It is an open question how many of them would be willing to help Smer remain in power for another term. That said, with the pool of potential coalition partners ranging in ideology from the barely reconstructed neo-Nazism of Marian Kotleba’s far-right L’SNS to Richard Sulik’s centrist liberal SAS, an attempt to form a viable coalition that does not include Smer may pose a greater challenge.
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