Country at a crossroads
After the shockwave sent by the murder of Kuciak and Kušnírová, Slovakia appears to be standing at a crossroads. Awareness of ruling elites’ corrupt behavior and dissatisfaction with the worsening quality of democracy have increased. As could be seen in the municipal elections in November 2018 and the presidential elections in March 2019, the new movement “For a decent Slovakia” that was born out of the protest could play an important role. The traditionally fluid Slovak party system is up for further changes, and after the parliamentary elections in 2020, new majorities might be forged.
Civil society in favor of liberal democracy
At the moment, Slovakia is not following the pattern observed in Hungary and Poland, as Slovak civil society and media have mobilized large numbers of voters against corruption and in favor of “decency,” that is, for values that are linked with effective governance as well as liberal democracy. If the coming elections in Slovakia manage to deliver punishing defeats to illiberal forces and strengthen agents of liberal democracy, the country will continue to deviate from the course taken in Hungary and Poland.
Clearer position on corruption needed
Fico’s resignation and some other concessions made by Smer-SD in 2018 cleared the way for a continuation of the coalition of Smer-SD, SNS and Most-Híd, now led by former Deputy Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini. This has given Smer-SD the opportunity to restore its credibility. This will require that Smer-SD take a clearer position on corruption, and that stop interfering with the media and public institutions. The resignations of Minister of Interior Robert Kaliňák and Prime Minister Fico will not be enough to assuage public frustration with the political class. What is also required is the continuation of the reform of the judiciary started by Minister of Justice Lucia Žitňanská (who resigned in March 2018), and a de-politicization of specific public bodies – such as the police, the Public Procurement Office, the Office of the Prosecutor General and the Supreme Audit Office – in addition to public administration more generally.
Long-term economic prospects at risk
Addressing these issues will also help make Slovakia’s impressive economic growth more sustainable. Long-term economic prospects are further limited by the poor state of the infrastructure, a lack of skilled labor and limited research and innovation activities. All these aspects require an improvement in order to sustain the economic course in the medium to long term.
remains in flux
remains in flux
Slovakia has a weakly institutionalized party system. After almost 30 years of free party competition, the party system remains in flux, with frequent fusions and fissions, new parties emerging and once-strong parties dissipating. At the same time, the party system has been “standing on only one leg” as a result of the polarization between dominant parties that invoke nationalist and leftist appeals (i.e, Vladimír Mečiar’s HZDS from 1991–1998 and Robert Fico’s Smer-SD since 2006) in one camp and a group of fragmented center-right parties on the other. These two voting blocs have been fairly stable in size and ideological preferences.
Coalitions have required complex alliances
As a result, having stable governments has required sophisticated coalition-building skills. Smer-SD leader Robert Fico succeeded in forming two coalition governments in 2006 and 2016, the latter consisting of two polarized coalition partners: namely the nationalist-rightist Slovak National Party (SNS) and the centrist party of the Hungarian minority Most-Híd.
Main political camps are strongly opposed
Conflicts between the two coalition partners – most notably on issues of human and minority rights and judicial reform – have often had a negative impact on the policymaking process. Since the 2016 parliamentary elections, the government has very rarely supported legislative proposals from opposition parties. The murder of investigative journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kušnírová in February 2018 has further aggravated the polarization between the two big political camps. (Score: 5)
Malová, D., B. Dolný (2016): Economy and Democracy in Slovakia During the Crisis: From a Laggard to the EU Core, in: Problems of Post-Communism, 63 (5-6), 300-312.