On September 30th, voters in Slovakia will be going to the polls in a snap election after a vote of no confidence that took place last year. This comes after a series of scandals and issues caused by Igor Matovič, who led Ordinary People and Independent Personalities (OĽaNO) to a victory on an anti-corruption ticket. The party more than doubled their vote share last election but are expected to reverse their fortunes; in POLITICO’s poll of polls, the party is currently at just 8%.
The return of SMER
The current polling leaders are the party which had dominated Slovak politics for decades. Direction – Social Democracy (SMER), whose leader Robert Fico has been Prime Minister on and off since 2006. Their best result came in 2012, where his party won a majority of seats in the Slovakian National Council. Fico is a very controversial character and is regarded as pro-Russian. He has stated that if he is elected his first action will be to stop sending weapons to Ukraine and that “Ukrainian fascists” started the war in 2014. He also has expressed willingness to work with the controversial far-right, neo-fascist party Republika, who are polling at 8%. Both are pro Russian, but lately, there could be many tensions between the two, as Republika restated their proposal to have a referendum on NATO membership, something which Fico has already ruled out.
This will create an interesting issue for the leaders in the polls. Tthough they may get the most votes, they don’t have any other allies. Peter Pellegrini, former SMER Prime Minister, has formed his own party, Voice – Social Democracy (HLAS). He has said that he would not join a coalition that included both SMER and Republika. There is also the option of the Slovak National Party, but that would have to be a third partner in a coalition, and it is unlikely HLAS would be willing to work with them. Fico has even more controversies. He originally had to resign as Prime Minister after being linked to a murder of a journalist by the mafia. Though he did resign, he accused the President for working with George Soros to destabilize the government. Despite this, he has made a political comeback, and after being in charge of the country for 12 years before his resignation, he clearly has an appeal which allowed him to be able to make a political comeback most politicians would not have expected considering the circumstances. The party is currently at 20% according to POLITICO’s poll of polls, having just slightly gone down from 21%, where it has been languishing for months.
The party which appears to be the biggest challenger in raw seats to SMER is the liberal party Progressive Slovakia (PS). The party has risen in the parliamentary polls, after failing to get a seat last election as their coalition didn’t make the 7% threshold. The party itself now polls in second place at 17%. PS is the party with momentum, having been gaining support since February. Its surge since the last election, going from 6% in the polls to where it is now, shows that the party is on the rise. There are a few reasons for this.
First is the popular President Zuzana Čaputová, who has decided not to stand for re-election. The majority of polls show she would have won convincingly. Many believe she has been a figure of stability amid all the chaos of the National Council. In March, one poll put her approval rating at 43% and polling from Ipsos shows she wins any head-to-head matchup. This association with PS, as well as no involvement in the issues in the National Council, has given the party momentum.
Moreover, with the rise in pro-Russian parties and personnel, PS has been an avid supporter of Ukraine. This alternative to SMER’s pro-Russian stance, and HLAS’s ambiguity, has allowed PS to be seen as the main pro-Ukraine party. However, the party faces an issue when it comes to potential coalition partners. No one really knows where HLAS will stand when it comes to coalitions, but we know that the conservative Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) party has stated it will not join a PS coalition if they back the legalization of same-sex marriage. Additionally, no one wants to be involved with OĽaNO after the last three years. All of this means that coalition agreements may be hard to form.
HLAS are likely to be the kingmakers, and have themselves seen a resurgence following losing their polling lead they held for under three years in March 2023. When I went to Bratislava for a day on my holiday, Pellegrini was the politician I constantly saw, and polling data by The Focus Agency placed him as the most trusted politician, with Fico a close second. The party has recently gone up for the first time since December 2022. However is now fluctuating in the 13% range. This would make them comfortably the third-largest party, but on the numbers, not challenging PS. Due to their previous links to SMER, there’s an idea that there could be a coalition formed with the two, but if there’s a needed third ally, it’s likely that the options available to SMER would put off HLAS in forming a government with Fico’s party. Though they are both economically left-wing, HLAS are less right-wing socially than SMER. They could still choose the alternative with PS.