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Election of the day: Slovakia

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Today, Slovakia will elect a new parliament. The government that emerged from the 2020 election had been a cobbled-together coalition led by the somewhat incoherent disorganized conservative populist party OL’aNO, the “Ordinary People and Independent Personalities” party, and three other smaller parties. The coalition was never particularly stable, and was dealt a substantial blow when a minor libertarian-ish party departed the coalition in the Summer of 2022, leaving them with a minority government. At that point it was a matter of when, not if, a vote of no confidence would occur, and occur it did in Decemnber. OL’aNO’s support has nearly completely evaporated, and they are one of several parties polling just north of the 5% threshold to enter parliament.

The election has attracted more international attention than a Slovakian might normally receive in large part because of the potential implications for European support for Ukraine. The party that appears to hold a very small lead, SMER-SD, lead by former (2012-2018) PM Robert Fico, is firm in its opposition to any military aid or support for Ukraine:

The frontrunner, former Prime Minister Robert Fico, has made no secret of his affinity for the Kremlin during the election campaign. He has criticized the West for supporting Ukraine and adopted a strong anti-US message, even accusing Slovakia’s President Zuzana Čaputová of being an “American agent.” He has said that if elected, he would stop sending weapons to Ukraine and block Ukraine’s NATO ambitions.

The party is alternatively described as left-populist and right-populist, and Fico himself has been all over the place on a number of foreign policy issues over the years. After a party split following the 2020 election, many of the more moderate and liberal factions of the party departed, and he lead it in a nationalist/populist/Russophilic direction. Many media outlets, including the New York Times, remain in the habit of calling them a left-populist party, but aside from supporting the retention of some aspects of the welfare state, it’s unclear there’s much “left” about them these days.

The party currently polling with a point or two of them is PS (Progressive Slovakia), a liberal/social liberal party formed in 2017 with a strong basis of support in the capital city of Bratislava. The economic and political gaps between liberal, progressive, and quite wealthy Bratislava and the rest of Slovakia are substantial, and perhaps surpassing similar economic/political gaps between the largest city and the rest of the country in Vienna/Austria. Unfortunately, Bratislava and its environs are a much smaller portion of the Slovakian population than Vienna is for Austria. Nonetheless, this newish party appears to be coming into the election with momentum, having closed the gap with SMER-SD considerably, even showing a small lead in a few polls.

The third place party, HLAS-SD, is described by many as a potential Kingmaker, is the party formed by those who abandoned SMER-SD after the 2020 party convention. Led by former PM Peter Pellegrini (he became PM in 2018 when Fico resigned in the face of mass protests over the murder of a journalist investigating his party’s corruption), this party appears to be a something approximating a fairly standard pro-Europe social democratic party. You might think that would make them a coalition partner for PS, especially given the recent split with SMER-SD, but some reporting seems to hint that might not be the case. In either case, if polling is correct either coalition would need more junior members, and a wide range of parties are polling very close to the 5% threshold. Should PS have the opportunity to attempt to form a government, they may be somewhat disadvantaged by some previous statements categorically ruling out any coalitions with nationalist and social conservative parties. Hopefully they a) pull off a minor upset and edge out SMER-SD, and b) find a way to cobble together a coalition, because the alternative is bad news.

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