Slovakia

   
 

Key Challenges

Election results will shape future governance style
In February 2020, parliamentary elections will be held in Slovakia. The big question concerning the elections is whether Zuzana Čaputová’s victory in the presidential elections in March 2019 will be complemented by an election victory for parties critical of the pervasive culture of corruption in Slovakia and the erosion of democratic quality or whether Smer-SD, which has dominated Slovak politics since 2006, will be able to hold on to power by forming a coalition with nationalist and right-wing parties. The answer to this question will be of interest not only for Slovakia. It might also send an important signal that the authoritarian and populist turn in East-Central Europe is not unstoppable.
Anti-corruption framework must be reformed
For stopping and reverting the democratic backsliding, it is not sufficient to conclude the trials of the alleged murderers of Kuciak and Kušnírová, and their backers. The legal framework for tackling corruption and existing integrity mechanisms need to be reformed. The proposals made by Chceme Veriť (We Want to Believe) and the Council of Europe’s Group of States Against Corruption (GRECO) are a good starting point. Eliminating the right-to-reply for politicians will be easy. However, rebuilding trust in the judiciary and the political class will require more than just a few changes in personnel, and will take time.
New economic growth strategies needed
Whoever wins the elections will face other challenges as well. The slowing of economic growth in 2019 has revealed the risks and limits of Slovakia’s strategy of economic development with its strong reliance on the car industry and export performance. Slovakia needs some strategically well-designed initiatives in order to maintain economic competitiveness and ensure economic growth. Tackling corruption, reforming the judiciary and improving the quality of public administration will be of help in this respect as well, but are not sufficient in themselves. Slovakia has to invest in fields such as education, R&I and ICT, which have been neglected in the past. Mobilizing the necessary resources will not be easy, as the Pellegrini government’s failure to meets its fiscal target in 2019 has demonstrated.
 

Party Polarization

Weakly institutionalized party system
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) and a group of fragmented center-right parties. These two political blocs have been fairly stable in size and ideological preferences. 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, right-wing Slovak National Party (SNS) and the centrist party of the Hungarian minority Most-Híd. 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.
Journalist’s death sparks rush of new parties
The murder of investigative journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kušnírová in February 2018 has not only shaken society, but has also resulted in a proliferation of new parties, including Za ľudí (For the People) chaired by former President Andrej Kiska, Vlasť’ (Homeland) led by former Supreme Court Chair Štefan Harabin and Dobrá Voľba (Good Choice) led by former Minister for Health and the Interior Tomáš Drucker. In addition, two centrist parties were established in 2017/18: Spolu–Občianska Demokracia (Together – Civic Democracy) and Progresívne Slovensko (Progressive Slovakia). The latter explicitly rejects the traditional left-right division of party politics and focuses on good governance issues. Consequently, party competition has increasingly centered either on claims for decent and rule-based politics (Za ľudí, Dobrá Voľba, PS, Spolu), or on more nationalist and patronage politics (Vlasť). These two camps have become increasingly polarized, and the growing polarization has undermined popular trust in politics and politicians. (Score: 5)
Citations:
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.
Gyárfášová, O., K. Henderson (2018): Slovakia and the turnout conundrum, in: East European Politics 34(1): 77-96.
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