High drama in the political life

Slovakia before the EP elections

Tense presidential elections last month highlighted the prominence of the country’s hard right politicians, though ultimately progressive principles won the day. Zuzana Čaputová became the country’s first female president-elect, and the youngest too. Unsurprisingly, the suspense overshadowed any media coverage of the European elections, where turnout can be expected to be well below 20 percent.

The EP elections in Slovakia continue to be of secondary importance after two rather contentious and tense rounds of domestic presidential elections. Nonetheless, the result of the first round may hint at the outcome of the elections in May. The extreme right Marian Kotleba and the ‘independent’ Štefan Harabín, who pundits consider a darling of pro-Kremlin disinformation channels, received around 25 per cent of the vote between them. This is alarming as supporters of extremist parties are often more disciplined and mobilized than those of moderate formations when it comes to actually turning out to vote. Moreover, Slovakia has consistently registered the lowest turnout in European elections – averaging below 20 percent.

The EP elections in Slovakia continue to be of secondary importance.

Zuzana Čaputová, a founding member of the social-liberal, pro-European Progressive Slovakia, eventually succeeded in becoming the country’s first female president-elect, and the youngest too. Yet Slovakia may still be set to join other European countries in returning extremist anti-EU candidates to the European Parliament – despite a generally moderate and largely pro-European political climate. In fact, Slovakia is probably the most moderate among the four Visegrád countries.

How could turnout possibly be so low?

Voter turnout at the EP elections has been notoriously low in Slovakia in the past, a trend that is likely to continue. Crucially, MEPs are considered rather detached from Slovak politics and tend to be forgotten about as soon as they have, in effect, been voted out of the domestic scene. Candidates are also nominated by parties as a form of reward either for less prominent politicians, or for those who have retired from a top political position. The high remuneration for MEPs is viewed with great disdain by the electorate in a country where the average wage is a fraction of an MEP’s salary. In fact, the most common criticism of candidates has been that they are trying to ‘escape’ to Brussels to do nothing but earn a huge salary.

Mobilizing the electorate

Perhaps the most bizarre candidacy this year is that of Igor Matovič, the businessman leader of prominent opposition party OĽANO, who claims that he will not take his seat if elected – in protest, he says, against US foreign policy towards Europe and the world, but this argument is irrelevant. More importantly, his willingness to forgo the high salary will be seen as a popular gesture in Slovakia. So his chances of ‘succeeding’ on behalf of Ordinary People and Independent Personalities, as the name of his party translates into English, seem favourable.

Extremists may gain more MEPs than they deserve.

The country’s other key opposition leader, Richard Sulík, leads the Freedom and Solidarity Party, aligned with the ECR in the European Parliament. But he has pledged to withdraw from European politics and instead run in the Slovak parliamentary election planned for later this year or early 2020.

It seems the debate on European politics will only ever be of marginal significance in the Slovakian media. The sole chance of a higher turnout would lie in the mobilization of an anti-European electorate that could threaten to loosen the grip on power that ECR aligned parties currently share with the Slovakian Social Democrats. This is not currently predicted to happen, but if it did, there would be a slight chance of a turnout that exceeds 20 or 25 percent.

First published on 19 April 2019 at Eurozine.

This text is protected by copyright: © Samuel Abrahám / Eurozine. If you are interested in republication, please contact the editorial team.
Copyright information on pictures, graphics and videos are noted directly at the illustrations. Cover picture: Bratislava, Slovakia. Photo: © iStock / RossHelen

Mood of the Union

The series Mood of the Union collects articles on all 28 EU member states. The series is supported by ERSTE Foundation and the National Endowment for Democracy.

In the Mood of the Union, partner editors of Eurozine from across the continent, together with further journalists and analysts, will be reporting on attitudes towards the elections and what is at stake at the national level. The aim is to provide a more detailed glimpse than one would usually catch from the bird’s-eye view of national media. The series is curated by Agnieszka Rosner and edited by contributing editor Ben Tendler.

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