Presidential Elections in Slovakia

Zuzana Čaputová, the candidate of the non-parliamentary neoliberal party ‘Progressive Slovakia’, has won the second round of presidential elections with 58% of votes. Čaputová is the first woman to become president and, at age 45, is the youngest president in the history of Slovakia.

The presidential elections in Slovakia were held in two rounds on 16 and 30 March 2019. Thirteen candidates ran in the first round with the two finalists in the second round. In all, 2.1 million people voted in the first round, with a participation rate of 48.74%; there were 1.8 million votes cast in the second round, with a participation rate of  41.79%.

In the first round five candidates received more than 5% of votes each. Zuzana Čaputová’s score was 40.57%, that of Maroš Ševčovič was 18.66%. They were followed by Štefan Harabin who ran as independent candidate without political affiliation and managed to garner 14.34%. The radical right-wing politician Merián Kotleba came in fourth.

 The Governing Parties’ Candidates

The parties that constitute the current governing coalition (SMER-SD, SNS and Most-Híd) did not act as a united front by nominating a single candidate.

The Slovak National Party (SNS) has not nominated its own candidate nor endorsed any other candidate – whether nominated by other members of the coalition or by other parties. Nor has the backbone of the coalition – SMER-SD (the Social Democrats). However, it has endorsed Maroš Šefčovič, an EU Commissioner, who nominated himself at the last minute. Most-Híd (a Hungarian minority party that currently faces declining electoral support) was the only member of the governing coalition that nominated its own candidate. However, its nominee, the political veteran B. Bugar, did not perform well, receiving a modest 3.1% of votes and ending up at in sixth place.

The position of the ruling SMER-SD on nomination was rather inconsistent which is unfortunately a long-term trend. While the party continues to put forward popular and populist measures, its policy increasingly lacks a coherent and persistent left focus, thus reinforcing the neoliberal oligarchy in a the return to making the country into a playground for foreign business conglomerates. Thus outright support from SMER-SD in the framework of the currently distorted social atmosphere created by mainstream media and the struggle between conservatives and neoliberals became a ‘kiss of death’ for any possible candidate. We tend to believe, however, that the main problem is actually the fact that SMER-SD is following the path of other social democratic parties in Poland and Hungary (and possibly the Czech ČSSD) of gradual abandonment – in the context of the distorted social atmosphere – of a socialist, left orientation.

 Radical Right On The Rise

Kotleba’s electoral result — Kotleba LSNS -People’s Party ‘Our Slovakia’ – was quite worrisome. It is a radical right-wing party considered by some to have fascist characteristics. It has substantial representation in the Slovakian Parliament (14 MPs) due to the 8% of votes it received in recent parliamentary elections. Some pre-election polls have not ruled out Kotleba making it to the second round, thus raising major concerns in some social sectors. In the end, he came in fourth, garnering 10.39% of the vote. Regionally, he did best in central Slovakia where he got a  hefty 13.92%.

Near Absence Of A Left-wing Agenda

The only left-wing candidate – Eduard Chmelár – won only 58,965 votes (2.74%) – in the first round, partly due to his controversial image in the eyes of many left-leaning voters. He is regarded as a staunch supporter of various minorities, but as is support of human rights remains notably abstract he has not gained much popularity, including among the left electorate.

Šefčovič, supported by the ruling SMER-SD party, has, unfortunately, started to lean towards a national-conservative rather than a left agenda.

The Mass-Media’s Negative Role

Leftist issues have not been covered by the mass-media, including, unfortunately, the public station RTVS (Radio and Television of Slovakia). Some attention has been paid by alternative media, but the public reach of left-leaning media in Slovakia varies from modest to very minimal, especially among the middle-age and young generations. The most followed alternative medium is Hlavné správy-Konzervatívny denník, which has a strong national-conservative character complemented by a tendency to espouse Christian religious values. The mainstream media oddly combines its traditional aggressive Russophobia with criticism of the neoliberal EU, while simultaneously treating NATO like a sacred cow that no one is allowed to touch.

Pessimistic Prognosis For The Left

These elections have meant a further decrease in the influence of leftist parties and forces in Slovakia and confirmed the increasing non-predictability of neoliberal politics. The parliamentary elections, which should be held at the latest in late February of next year, are therefore not expected to bring good results. They will most probably lead either to a post-electoral deadlock, since SMER-SD, if the current trend continues, will hardly get more than 20% of votes at best, or to a very fragmented and unstable government. The emergence of a new left-wing entity that would have a chance of gaining a parliamentary presence in the Parliament is quite unrealistic in this context. The movement ‘Progressive Slovakia’ is a distasteful neoliberal confection, which was quickly put together to distract voters from a left agenda. Some aspect of a promised change will certainly come, but it will have a merely formal character, and there still will be nothing that could address the real problems of the Slovakian people.

However, despite the numerous problems associated with the change of SMER-SD’s orientation, there is currently no real alternative to it in terms of a left agenda. The existing Communist Party of Slovakia is a negligible political entity with minimal influence. It receives practically no media coverage while at the same time the highly criticised radical right Kotleba-LSNS is constantly in the limelight of the mainstream press. The Kotleba-LSNS radicals are increasingly surrounding themselves with people who are dissatisfied with the current state of Slovak society. Although SMER-SD is often criticised by mainstream media for its ‘leftness’, the attention SMER-SD pays to radical left entities is almost non-existent.

Although there are a number of intellectuals within the ranks of the Slovak left whose influence in society is not negligible (for example, through various left-wing sites, publishing activities, etc.), they tend to lack a stronger political structure as well as a platform for developing a broader view of how to solve the acute problems of  Slovak politics, economics, culture, etc.

The main problem of the Slovak radical left is its fragmentation and the absence of prominent personalities able to unite the movement. The presidential election results certainly did not improve its standing. Some indication may be given by the outcome of the upcoming elections to the European Parliament. Our forecast is, however, rather pessimistic based on the current state of the Slovak left.