Slovak centre-right puts hope in five-party government

Slovak centre-right puts hope in five-party government
The previous four-party centre-right government collapsed in chaos and acrimony in 2012 after less than two years.
By Ben Cunningham in Bratislava March 11, 2016

Amid splintered election results, Slovak President Andrej Kiska tasked Prime Minister Robert Fico with forming a new government on March 9. But with opposition parties reticent to cooperate with Fico’s leftwing Smer party, election runner up Richard Sulík — head of the free market and eurosceptic Freedom and Solidarity party (SaS) — is touting his chances to form a five-party centre-right coalition.

“There are a lot of shady deals underway in the background, trying to convince whoever they can to join Fico,” said Pavol Hardoš, a political scientist at Comenius University in Bratislava. “But the situation really does look like Sulík is going to go ahead.”

Kiska gave Fico until March 18 to come up with a governing coalition, but two key opposition parties — Siet’ and Most-Híd — have declined to hold talks with the premier. As of now the only party willing to talk with Fico is the rightwing Slovak National Party (SNS), which would also be essential to any coalition led by Sulík.

"We are ready to seek what we have in common and we're ready for compromise,” Sulík, a free market economist who also supports legalising euthanasia and marijuana, said on March 8.

The mathematics likely require a government led by either Fico or Sulík to include both the nationalist SNS and Most-Híd, a party that seeks to make the state more inclusive of the country’s significant Hungarian minority. Though the SNS has softened its image under leader Andrej Danko, this would nonetheless seem contradictory.    

“The biggest dilemma is for Most and SNS to get together,” Hardoš said. “For Most it would be a double betrayal to go with Smer.”

The March 5 election results give Smer 49 seats in the 150-member parliament. SaS is second with 21. The populist Ordinary People and Independent Personalities (OL’aNO) has 19 seats and has also ruled out a coalition with Smer. SNS took 15 seats, and the extreme rightwing People’s Party Our Slovakia (LSNS) led by Marian Kotleba has 14 — but nobody will work with the latter. The upstart protest party Sme rodina (We Are Family) has 11 spots, as does Most-Híd. The liberal Siet’ party, led by the Yale-educated lawyer Radoslav Procházka and once thought to be Smer’s biggest challenger, has just 10 seats.

Sulík’s proposed five-party coalition – one more party than the fractious centre-right government of 2010-12 – would control a narrow majority of 76 seats, meaning they would likely need support of one party from outside the government too. Sme rodina looks a candidate that would push their majority to 87. However, that party, led by businessman Boris Kollar is viewed has highly unpredictable. Kollar, the father of nine children by eight different women, once worked as a so-called vekslák — somebody who worked in a murky world exchanging everyday money for hard foreign currency during the communist era.

Sobered up

The prospect of Sulík as premier has many concerned as well. His eurosceptic views might prove a blight during Slovakia’s EU presidency in the latter half of the year and he is widely blamed for bringing down the 2010-2012 centre-right government over his refusal contribute to the Greek bailout. That resulted in new elections that saw Fico waltz to an outright majority in parliament.

“The idea is that this will sober him up and he will realise that he has a greater responsibility,” Hardoš said. “ He needs to learn to compromise, something he has not been willing to do in the past.”

An alternative Smer-SNS-Most-Híd-Siet’ government would control a stable 85 seats and there appears at least one more possibility: a broader coalition including Smer and the centre-right in the mould of a caretaker government to see the country through the EU presidency.

Though many have sworn off cooperating with Smer, most have done so referring to Fico by name, leaving open a backdoor compromise that could see another face head the government — with new elections to follow in early 2017. Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajčák, who is not officially a Smer party member, would seem a likely candidate do so, and even Sulík has begun softening his stand to never cooperate with Smer.

“It is all going to be dependent on the individual personalities and how well they can work together,” Hardoš said.

At the same time more hard data is emerging about the surprisingly strong performance by the extreme right wing Kotleba’s ĽSNS. Though much of the post-election analysis blamed Fico’s anti-migrant rhetoric for pushing voters towards the two rightwing parties, data paints a different picture and indicates Kotleba voters were much more spread out, younger and less motivated by race issues than anticipated.  

Kotleba had support of between 6% and 13% in nearly every district in the country, according to the Slovak Statistical Office. In exit polls, just 8% of ĽSNS supporters cited migration issues as top reason the voted for the party, with social inequality and concerns about corruption the two most frequent explanations. His party took 23% of the votes from first time voters.

Kotleba has thus far been content to remain relatively quiet, betting that an unstable government could benefit him in early elections — whenever they do come.