Independents dominated the November 15 local elections in Slovakia, confirming the sceptical attitude towards the country's mainstream political parties.
Independent candidates won 38% of the mayoral seats and 29% of councillor seats. The ruling Smer party, led by Prime Minister Robert Fico, remains the most popular party in the country with a haul of 29% of mayoral seats and 24.7% of councillor seats. However, in the major cities, most mayors are now independent, or backed by several parties.
Smer won the 2012 general election with 44% support, and until recently, Fico was seen as almost invincible. However, the party and its leader's popularity have started to fade over the last year. A watershed came in March, when Fico was defeated in the presidential elections by independent entrepreneur and philanthropist Andrej Kiska. Smer secured just 24% of the vote at May's European Parliament elections.
The biggest hit in the local vote, both for Smer and mainstream politics, came in the race for the capital. Independent Ivo Nesrovnal defeated not only incumbent Mayor Milan Ftacnik - formally an independent but supported by Smer - but also the candidate backed by a wide platform of rightwing parties. Decimated by scandals ahead of the 2012 general election, the opposition had clubbed together in a bid to unseat Smer.
However, the ruling party did manage to keep hold of Kosice. Smer incumbent Mayor Richard Rasi fought off the challenge from the opposition coalition in the biggest city in the east. Smer's candidate also retained his seat in Zilina.
Elsewhere, independents were to the fore, taking Trencin and Trnava. Banska Bystrica and Nitra were won by candidates supported by parties from across the political spectrum, illustrating the weakness of the mainstream parties, at municipal level at least.
The results suggest Slovaks are still not ready to trust the right. Despite 10 parties putting their differences aside to mount a challenge to the left-leaning Smer, they enjoyed little success. The rightwing coalition initiative achieved success in just one major city, Presov.
The success of independent candidates reflects a growing trend in the region, and across Europe, illustrating deep cynicism towards mainstream politics. In similar fashion to the Slovak vote, independents took the majority of seats in last month's municipal elections in the Czech Republic.
However, Slovaks appear even less trustful than their neighbours, and show increasing signs of disconnection with the political process in any format. Slovakia set a new record low for voter turnout at May's European Parliament elections, with just 13% bothering to vote.
Turnout on November 15 slid to 48.34% from the 49.69% seen in 2010, and interest in lower profile posts across the country sank to new lows. The Slovak Spectator reported that 18 villages will have to re-run the vote because no candidates ran for the mayoral seats. Another 500 municipalities featured only one candidate.
While immigration and anti-EU sentiment is seen behind the voter scepticism in Europe, corruption plays the main role in the east.
Fico clearly has that in mind as he tries to halt Smer's slide. The party's powerful speaker of parliament, Pavol Paska, timed his resignation for election night. Pressure had piled on Paska in recent weeks over his alleged connection to a case concerning hospital procurement that led the health minister and other Smer officials to be sacked. The opposition failed in efforts to make him face a confidence vote in parliament on November 10, but has organized demonstrations in Bratislava and other large cities. Paska was seen as the next likely PM if Fico had won the presidency.
Having seen his support sliding this year, a series of populist policy announcements has helped Fico push back in recent polls. Smer is currently on target to take around 35% in a general election, although the next vote is not due until 2016.
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