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Slovakia: Corruption, Parliamentary Elections, and SMER's Comeback

The March 10 victory in the Slovak parliamentary elections is not the first one for the SMER-Social Democracy party. Formerly a communist, now a social democrat, the party's leader Robert Fico has won for the third time in a row already.

In 2006, SMER had 29.1 percent of the popular vote (50 out of 150 seats). To form a government, however, Fico needed two coalition partners; one of them happened to be the Slovak National Party (SNS), whose leader, Ján Slota, was notorious for his anti-Roma and anti-Hungarian comments. Because of this partnership, Fico ended up having problems with the European social-democratic structures.

In 2010, SMER won even more votes (34.8 percent), but since it had “cannibalized” its former partners, it ended in the opposition. (One of the partners failed to enter the parliament at all, while the other was saved by extra votes earned by a political newcomer, a former hockey star Vincent Lukáč.)

Other right-wing parties refused to cooperate with SMER, accusing its politicians of corruption and overspending that “leads to Greece.” Fico, who had publicly declared shortly before the elections that he would never accept the role of an opposition MP, became one.

Before the 2010 elections, a recording of Fico's 2002 secret speech was made public: in it he declared that he had made significant amounts of money for unofficial funding of the party ‘with his own head.’ Because of the way in which Fico later denied the authenticity of the record, it is common to refer to him jokingly as “a voice similar to Fico's.”

When at the end of 2011 the right-wing government fell because of disagreements over the European bailout fund, it was expected that this would be the main topic of the election campaign.

But just a few weeks later, the so-called Gorilla Scandal broke out, due to the publication of the transcripts of secret meetings between the head of Penta, a Slovak investment group, and people from various governmental structures, which allegedly took place before 2006, when nearly the same right-wing government as in 2011 was in office. The transcripts featured discussions of state economy-related topics and expensive offers.

The recordings were made by the Slovak intelligence service (SIS), as part of an operation that had begun accidentally, because one of the SIS agents happened to live in an apartment next door. The text version that was made public is not the exact transcript, and it is not clear whether all of its parts correspond to the original. It is also not known when, if ever, the participants of the secret meetings realized [sk] their conversations were being taped. And it is not clear who made the transcripts public, although it is now obvious that some media, as well as some politicians, knew about it, but were afraid to deal with it.

Fico's visits are mentioned in the recordings, too. He refused to clearly admit that he had been to the mentioned apartment. What is clear is that during the time of “his reign” the investigation of the case stopped, the “neighbor” agent was fired from SIS, and the original voice recordings were reported to have been erased (they were expected to re-surface just days before the elections, but never did).

SDKU, the main right-wing party affected the most by the affair, started its “suicide ride” by simply denying everything. The party's leader Mikulas Dzurinda declared that he had not even read the transcripts to the end. In one of the latest pre-election surveys, SDKU wasn't getting enough votes to get into the parliament.

Penta, too, denied everything, and unleashed its lawyers, who achieved a very fast court ban of the book about the Gorilla case. For a while, they also tried to take action against Facebook as one of the places where the papers had been published.

SMER, refusing to comment on any possible links between the party and corruption, focused its election campaign on social issues, declaring that “people deserve certainties” – a statement that, on the web, quickly got paired with Benjamin Franklin's words, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

Benjamin Franklin: "In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes”; Robert Fico: "People deserve certainties." (An anonymous image widely circulated online.)

(More election-inspired graphics can be found here and here.)

The publication of the transcripts caused protests across the country, the last one of which took place the day before the elections. The numbers of the protesters in Bratislava ranged from over 10,000 to just a few hundreds, with the unusually cold weather being an obstacle to making the protests more numerous. A few conflicts with the police took place [sk] during the protests as well. At the beginning, the organizers had quite unrealistic demands, such as postponing the March 10 elections until autumn, when, as they expected (somewhat naively, perhaps), the newly-started investigation would bring results.

The vote, however, took place as scheduled, and this cartoon conveys the voters’ mood very well.

Because of many right-wing voters who did not come to vote (and many left-wing ones who did come), SMER now has over 50 percent of the seats and can form a new government on its own. SDKU lost two-thirds of its voters, but did get into the parliament.

Below is a short selection from a web discussion that followed this article [sk] about voter preferences on the eve of the elections.

TimmyA:

The rescue of SDKU = the rescue of the Dzurinda-[Miklos] duo. And such persons perhaps today no sane man can rescue. They do not deserve rescue. I gave them my vote in 1998 and 2002. … But a party that is spitting at its voters and even in the last days their nominees care about their own bussiness … such a party does not deserve support.

mfpvr (in reply):

I consider myself sane, and imagine, I plan to vote for SDKU, even for the first time right now. … If someone does not want to vote for SDKU just because of Dzurinda, then he's an ox, because right now there is a chance to finally send him to well-deserved retirement. … Now [the voter] has a unique chance … to get Dzurinda away [using preferential votes].

TimmyA (in reply):

A chance. So I have to BEG for any chance? It's them who have to BEG for MY VOTE… Dzurinda does not care about any preferential votes … The only chance is he will be forced to leave.

Lucia Jannovska (in reply):

Dear TimmyA
let me draw attention to myself. I personally will vote for SDKU…. Are you asking why SKDU? I got from them what I am thankful for. And I would like to continue with the reforms. The countries around [Slovakia] are envious of them already.

Kvantovy mechanik:

… The idea that “I have five rotten apples, so I have to choose one” is still relevant.

JaM:

Slovakia, Slovakia…
We had four years of Fico and it ended so that we once again had to tighten our belts. The problem was that the government that came after him had big promises but they delivered almost nothing of what they had promised…

Martin1984:

It is not necessary to save corrupt parties. It is just necessary to save Slovakia from them by not giving them our votes again and again.

And here are some comments from a discussion that followed this Pravda.sk article [sk] about the election results:

Zaza:

Congratulations to the winner of the elections. The people decided and we, who did not vote for him, will carefully watch how the idea of a welfare state is promoted. … And when SMER succeeds and, more importantly, has no scandals like those in the past … it can be that in the future I will vote for them. It would be nice, but seeing what the first statements of Mr. Fico are, in terms of PPP projects and the planned progressive taxation, I am afraid that it will be exactly what we had here two years ago.

kohinor:

People chose SMER in a democratic election. They know very well that even SMER is not doing miracles and they can also expect (!) austerity and asceticism. They also know that in case of right-wing victory they can expect just(!) austerity and asceticism. And that makes the main difference.

cerveni_koncia_2:

It is sad that the policies of those socialists are based on short-term devastation of the state budget and spreading the utter crap whose result is only Greece. Probably it would be best if Fico ruled not for four years, but for eight … Slovakia has to go through hell to let these people – Fico-voters – understand the basic principles of functionality of the economy.

Brehy:

Now I will wait for the program of the government, I will give them 100 days, during which I will be interested how they bring order to the tax mess and whether they keep promises of progressive tax and how they work to keep the prices of gas and electricity from rising….

tesa:

Gorillas remain in the parliament. Who will drive them out from there?

contris (in reply):

no one, because we are all gorillas. I would steal, you would steal, everyone would steal if [we] had a chance.

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