>Slovak elections through a Czech looking glass

> Last weekend’s Slovak elections were as anticipated were won by Smer – Social Democracy of populist turned reasonably respectable Social Democrat, Robert Fico. Smer, effecttivel founded at SSEES in December 1999 when Fico was a still a somewhat troubled star turn of the post-communist Democratic Left party – pulled in 29% of the vote. The major surprises were the much better than expected performance of outgoing the centre-right Slovak Democratic and Christian Union of outgoing PM (18% rather than the expected 10%) and the re-entry into parliament of the ultra-nationalist Slovak National Party with a stonking 11% which may be their best performance ever.

Vladimír Mečiar‘s HZDS continues its secular decline with a mere 8.5% and may with the rise of Smer have blown its chance to transform itself into a moderate national-populist grouping as say the Croatian Democratic Union did following the death of Tudjman, although Tudjman manage to die at a politically opportune moment, while Mečiar seems in rude health, physically if not politically. The Christian Democrat Movement (KDH) performs respectable, but has a limited electorate and no longer has the broad potential it once seemed to have.

Various small liberal parties like the Free Forum and the Alliance of the New Citizen, like their Czech equivalent was culled by the electorate. The Slovak Communists too duck out of parliament, continuing a pattern of small workerist groups briefly stoking up enough support to gain representation for one term but then losing the support of a fickle electorate of industrially declining regions concentrated in East Slovakia.

Viewed through a Czech prism there are parallels – a strong, if populist, Social Democrat party (Fico and Paroubek – who campaign in Slovakia for Smer as indeed did Miloš Zeman); a small niche Christian Democratic party – more socially conservative in Slovakia, however; and a bloc of 20% of suspect anti-reform voters (Slovak Nationalists and Mečiar’s part) loosely equivalent to the Czech Communist, I suppose, if politically harder to read. Geographically as in Czechia, the right wins the capital and the more prosperous Western regions, while the poor East and central districts are bastions of the left.

The main Czech-Slovak difference is the weakness of the Slovak civic right –which has about half the support of its Czech equivalent and the presence of the Hungarian coalition party as the joker in the pack. The biggest and most obvious difference – so obvious I forgot to mention it is the Slovak Social Democrats won, despite polling less than their Czech equivalents (who are, nevertheless, arguably the real winners of the Czech elections, but that’s another story…)

Of course, in a sense the Slovaks, having implemented a fairly brutal and radical set of labour market and welfare reforms on the crest of a post- Mečiar wave do not in fact need a strong liberal right and, as the Czech case, shows mobilizing 35% of the electorate for flat taxation and free markets can get you nowhere tends also to mobilize the left.

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