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Slovakia’s Politics in a Nutshell

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1 Slovakia’s Politics in a Nutshell
Rules Conflicts Players

2 Rules > Legislatures > US
The US and UK, for example, elect representatives on the basis of geographic representation, with head-to-head competition among candidates determining the winner.

3 Rules > Legislatures > Slovakia
5% In Slovakia, as in other proportional representation systems, seats are distributed according to the proportion of votes. Slovakia has only one electoral district so the proportionality except for parties receiving less than 5% of the vote. Votes for those parties are redistributed proportionally among parties with more than 5%

4 Rules > Executives > US
The US elects its executive directly, again on the basis of geographical representation through the use of a 1-time, 1 purpose parliament (which does not actually meet) called the Electoral College.

5 Rules > Executives > US
The US President is elected separately from the legislature and has roughly comparable power. Much of American political debate involves struggles between the wishes of these two branches of government, either of which can, in theory, block the efforts of the other.

6 Rules > Executives > Slovakia
2nd Round Slovakia elects presidents directly with all candidates (often non-partisan) competing an a first round and the two top vote getters (if none has achieved a majority) competing in a second round. The presidency’s powers, however, are quite limited.

7 Rules > Executives > Slovakia
Most executive power in Slovakia lies in the hands of the prime minister and other cabinet ministers who together form the government and who are dependent on the support of parliament. After each election, the president nominates a ‘prime minister designate’ with the task of forming a government (often this is the leader of the party with the most votes, but sometimes it is the leader of another party who seems more able to do the job). With Slovakia’s multiparty system, most governments consist of members of several parties (and some non-party experts) supported by a parliamentary coalition of those same parties. If parliament loses confidence in a government (either because the government is not performing or because parliamentary deputies change parties) it can replace the government or, in some circumstances, call a new election.

8 Conflicts > US Liberal Conservative
The standard model of political conflict in the United States is a one-dimensional conflict between left (called Liberal) and right (called Conservative) with each pole representing a coherent set of core values. Reality is more complicated (and interesting)…

9 Conflicts > US Cultural Left Economic Left Economic Right
Cultural Right In reality, Americans fight simultaneously about cultural questions of lifestyle, (abortion, homosexuality, and foreign policy seems to fit here too) and economics (taxes, spending) and the two are relatively unrelated, so knowing what someone thinks about one offers little insight into what that person thinks about the other. Someone on the left in one realm may be on the right in the other. While specific issues and baseline positions vary, this is not much different from the situation in most Western European countries.

10 Conflicts > Slovakia
National identity Communism State Control Anti-Communism Free Market Other, Broader Identities In Slovakia, too, conflict occurs in separate realms. The economic realm is not entirely dissimilar to those in the West but also involves the legacies of communism, state ownership and the process of privatization. Slovakia’s other dimension is not primarily cultural but instead involves question of national identity (who belongs, who does not, what obligations and rights should be held by particular groups, how important national identity should be compared to other identities, and how much of a threat Slovakia faces from internal and external enemies). The importance of these identities has changed over time.

11 Conflicts > Slovakia > 1990
Nationalism Communism State Control Anti-Communism Free Market Integration In the first years after 1989, conflict in Slovakia predominantly reflected concerns about communism, though not necessarily only its economic aspects. National questions were present but did not play as strong a role until mid-1991.

12 Conflicts > Slovakia > 1990-1994
Independence Communism State Control Anti-Communism Free Market Czechoslovakia Between 1990 and 1994, the main issue shifted toward national questions involving relations with Czechs, independence and its consequences (Slovakia’s place in the world, and relationships between Slovaks and Hungarians).

13 Conflicts > Slovakia > 1994-1998
Nationalism, Authority Communism State Control Anti-Communism Free Market Integration, Democracy Between 1994 and 1998, this dimension dominated Slovakia’s politics, tied closely to the government of Vladimir Meciar and his Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) which also engaged in a sustained attempt to gain control over the levers of state power in such a fashion as to endanger the prospect for sustained democracy, as well as Slovakia’s integration into the EU and NATO.

14 Conflicts > Slovakia > 1998-2006
Nationalism Welfare State Market Reforms Integration With Meciar’s loss in 1998, the national axis slowly lost its dominant position and, particularly because of the market-oriented reforms of the Dzurinda government after 2002, competition again moved toward economic questions, though it may not have stayed there (see below).

15 Players > US A Party Map of United States, Republicans Third Parties Democrats 1946 1950 1954 1958 1962 1966 1970 1974 1978 1982 1986 1990 1994 1998 American political competition has, for over a century, been primarily a conflict between two main political parties, with third parties occasionally competing (never successfully) for the presidency but rarely occupying parliamentary seats.

16 Players > Slovakia Slovakia’s political party landscape is far more complicated, with multiple parties and significant changes caused by party splintering and mergers.

17 Players > Slovakia It is possible to simplify the matter slighty by understanding these shifts as reconfigurations within party blocs, defined here as Hungarian National (green, top), Slovak National (brown, bottom), Right (blue, mid-top), Left (pink, mid-bottom) though this is likely an oversimplification.

18 Players > Slovakia Although political parties in these blocs have seen significant instability, the actual voting within these blocs (as I have approximately defined them) has been quite stable, with almost unchanging Hungarian and “Right” support and some gains by the “Left” and losses by the “Slovak National” bloc.

19 Who are they? Who supports them? What do they stand for?
Players > Slovakia Who are they? Who supports them? What do they stand for?

20 Players > The Dearly Departed
A number of once prominent political players in Slovakia have disappeared from the political scene or become politically irrelevant. On the “Right” this includes the Democratic Union (merged into the current SDKU), ANO and SF (collapsed; still alive but with support reduced to about 1%). On the “Left” this includes ZRS (collapsed before the 1998 elections), SOP (collapsed before the 2002 elections), KSS (still alive but with support around 2%) and in the “Slovak National” bloc, HZD (still alive but with support around 1%). The subsequent pages will focus on the six parties with significant support.

21 Players > Fico Smer SNS
The dominant player in Slovakia’s party politics at the present time is Robert Fico, president of the party Smer (“Direction”) and the Prime Minister of Slovakia. Fico is by far the most prominent and powerful individual within Smer, and Smer holds the dominant position within the government coalition.

22 Players > Fico Smer SNS Average yearly popular support
Seats in parliament Fico created Smer in when he departed from the Party of the Democratic Left (SDL) (which transformed itself from the Communist Party of Slovakia in ). Capitalizing on dissatisfaction with SDL and other parties, Smer rose to 20% in the polls almost overnight and hovered around 15%-20% during its early years. In parliamentary opposition between 2002 and 2006, the party again capitalized on dissatisfaction with other opposition parties and on dissatisfaction with the economic reforms of the Dzurinda government to reach levels around 30%. Since entering government, the party has defied expectations of decline and has risen further to levels of popularity never before sustained in Slovakia, hovering around 40%.

23 Players > Fico Smer Nationalism Integration Communism State Control
Anti-Communism Free Market Integration A recent survey of academic experts on Slovakia (and other countries) asked respondents to locate political parties on many of the most important questions in political debate. The circle above locates the experts’ opinions about Smer : significantly to the left on economic questions; slightly to the national side on identity questions. A survey taken 4 years earlier showed Smer closer to the center on economic questions (though still to the left of center) and at or slightly below the mean on identity questions.

24 Players > Slota SNS SNS
The second largest party in the current governing coalition is the Slovak National Party, headed by Jan Slota, who until recently also served as mayor of the city of Zilina in Slovakia’s northwest. The party claims some connection to the late-19th century Slovak National Party, but there is no actual institutional continuity. The party has splintered twice, once in 1994 when Slota (more moderate leaders left) was elected party chairman and once in 2000 when Slota was removed as party chairman (Slota and his allies left) The party reunited after the 2002 election with a new organizational structure that put Slota in sole command of the party (with little chance left for membership-based opposition).

25 Players > Slota SNS SNS Average yearly popular support
Seats in parliament Popularity of SNS has varied between 5% and 15% over the past 18 years, averaging around 8%. The party’s popularity suffered somewhat during its time in government with Meciar’s HZDS ( ) but recovered until the departure of Slota led to a split in the party. In the 2002 elections, SNS and Slota’s rival, “The Real” Slovak National Party (PSNS) split evenly, each falling short of the electoral threshold with about 3.5%. The loss compelled party leaders to work for unification and the party subsequently succeeded in regaining its previous levels of popularity and (largely because of the waning of Meciar’s HZDS—see below) actually increased its popularity to near-record levels.

26 Players > Slova SNS Nationalism Integration Communism State Control
Anti-Communism Free Market Integration Expert surveys locate SNS slightly to the left on economic questions (but without a clear profile) and strongly to the Slovak Nationalist pole of competition, as might be expected. The party leader has often spoken in strong—even rude and confrontational—ways regarding other ethnic groups.

27 Players > Mečiar HZDS SNS
The Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) under the leadership of Vladimir Meciar, was the driving force of politics in Slovakia in the 1990’s. The party continues to play a role, though it is currently the smallest of the coalition partners and it has seen its support wane steadily. The party is tightly focused around the person of Meciar, and over time has seen the departure of large numbers of prominent 2nd-tier party leaders who came into conflict with Meciar, many of whom formed parties of their own including the Democratic Union and the Movement for Democracy, listed above.

28 Players > Mečiar HZDS SNS Seats in parliament Average yearly
popular support HZDS began as an offshoot of the anticommunist VPN (Public Against Violence) Begun in part to protest Meciar’s removal from the prime ministership by the parliamentary presidium, HZDS quickly surpassed VPN in popularity and scored significant electoral victories in 1992 and (after splintering within HZDS caused Meciar again to be removed as prime minister by parliament ) in In 1998 the party again gained the more votes than any other party far fewer than in previous years and too few to form a government with the Slovak National Party. Between 1998 and 2006 the party saw a marked erosion of its support, through party splintering, shifts to other parties and attrition.

29 Players > Mečiar HZDS Nationalism Integration Communism
State Control Anti-Communism Free Market Integration While during the mid-1990’s HZDS took a distinct pro-national and anti-integration position (albeit softer than that of SNS), by the mid-2000’s the party’s search for rehabilitation had caused it to abandon nearly all of its distinctive party positions and adopt a position slightly to the left of center on economic issues (though its voters were among the most supportive of redistribution) and slightly toward the national pole.

30 Players > Dzurinda SDKÚ SNS
The Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKU) emerged out of the Slovak Democratic Coalition (SDK) a party that itself emerged from the coalition of five pro-democracy parties against Meciar’s HZDS in 1998 (and forced into a single party structure by a restrictive electoral law). When the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) withdrew from SDK in 2000, the coalition chair and then prime minister Mikulas Dzurinda formed SDKU as a distinct party. Although the party never boasted a large membership and was created from within parliament, it nevertheless differed from other parties in selecting party of the party electoral lists through an internal primary. Dzurinda continued as prime minister after the 2002 election with a coalition more univocally supportive of economic reform. After the 2006 election the party went into opposition and has faced both significant internal dissent and corresponding attempts at centralization by the party leader.

31 Players > Dzurinda SDKÚ SNS
Average yearly popular support SDK-Slovak Democratic Coalition Seats in parliament SDKU’s support has consistently hovered around the 8%-15% mark, though the party has consistently outperformed its polling numbers in actual elections. It has sustained support around the 12% level in 2008 despite major internal dischord resulting in the expulsion of a significant share of party leaders and members in the Bratislava region, the party’s strongest regional base.

32 Players > Dzurinda SDKÚ Nationalism Integration Communism
State Control Anti-Communism Free Market Integration SDKU has consistently offered one of the clearest ideological profiles in Slovakia’s political party system, with resolute support for market mechanisms, lower taxes, and reforms that shift costs to service users. The party has also supported international integration and within the context of Slovakia’s politics has been relatively open to calls for minority rights, though it has at times also tried to employ national issues.

33 Players > Hungarians
MK SNS The Party of the Hungarian Coalition (MKP in Hungarian, SMK in Slovak) is not a party dominated by a single leader. In 2007 Pal Csaky replaced long-time leader Bela Bugar, but Bugar and other leaders maintain strong influence. Like the Slovak Democratic Coalition, SMK came together as a coalition of several Hungarian parties which integrated their party structures as a result of the restrictive 1998 electoral law. Unlike SDK, SMK did not separate back into its original elements and has remained unified, and the party maintains a relatively strong membership base.

34 Players > Hungarians
MK SNS Average yearly popular support Seats in parliament MKP/SMK is almost exclusively identified with the Hungarian ethnic population in Slovakia: few non-Hungarians vote for the party, and few party voters are not Hungarian. This means that the party has an extraordinary stable base of support, though for reasons that are nit entirely clear this has declined slightly (by 1% or 2% in the last two years).

35 Players > Hungarians
MK Nationalism Communism State Control Anti-Communism Free Market Integration MKP/SMK is, ideologically, the mirror image of SNS according to expert surveys: in favor of integration and minority rights and (given its participation in eight years of coalition with “Right” parties, slightly inclined toward market mechanisms. It is worth noting, however, that the party’s overwhelming support of integration is in large part driven not by a denationalized cosmopolitanism but by a strong emphasis on creating a counterweight that helps preserve rights for the Hungarian ethnic group within Slovakia.

36 Players > Christian Dems
KDH SNS The Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) emerged shortly after the fall of Communism, strongly influenced by Catholic dissident circles. The party played a strong role in the early post-communist governments and again during a brief period in 1994 after the ouster of Meciar (and before his subsequent return). The party sharply opposed HZDS’s abuses of political power and helped shape a broad opposition coalition, first under the name of the “Blue” coalition and then as the Slovak Democratic Coalition, into which the party merged in After the election, however, the party sought some of its former autonomy and eventually left SDK to re-establish itself as an independent party. It continued in government, however, but left the coalition in 2006 (because of disagreements with other coalition partners) prompting slightly pre-term elections. In 2000, Pavol Hrusovsky replaced retiring long-time party leader Jan Carnogursky, but Carnogursky and a variety of other leaders continue to play a prominent role, and like MKP/SMK, KDH is less focused around a single leader and more dependent on its membership base than most other parties in Slovakia.

37 Players > Christian Dems
KDH SNS Average yearly popular support Seats in parliament Estimated KDH seats within SDK KDH has seen a slow decline in support over time, from early prominence as the second largest party in the country to a lower but stable level of support between 7% and 15% (though actual continuity is harder to determine because of the absence of polling while the party participated in SDK). The current trend appears slightly negative but not extreme. Party supporters tend to be those with strong religious beliefs, a stable if slowly declining demographic group.

38 Players > Christian Dems
KDH Nationalism Communism State Control Anti-Communism Free Market Integration Since 1998 KDH has participated in two governing coalitions with strongly market-oriented parties and as part of its own anti-Communism, the party has tended to support market mechanisms as well. Expert surveys therefore list it to the right of center on economic questions (though not as far as SDKU). The party’s relationship with national questions is less clear, as it has been less likely than SNS or HZDS to attack Slovakia’s Hungarians on ethnic grounds (and has indeed served in coalition with them) but has also not shied away from national themes and expressions of discontent with the MKP/SMK as well as with the European Union. KDH supported EU accession but has subsequently been cautious and even critical of the EU to the extent that it favors “European” and “liberal” values over “Christian” ones. More than most other parties, KDH competes on a third axis, not pictured here, involving the conflict between religious and secular values and the party has talked more than other parties about such themes as homosexuality, abortion, and law and order.

39 The Future>Leadership
Centralization By Western European standards, Slovakia’s parties are exceptionally centralized and dependent on particular leader (to the point that the departure of a leader, in the case of Smer, HZDS and perhaps also SNS would likely mean the end of the party as we know it. This centralization has increased over time within parties (especially within SDKU and SNS) and within the system as a whole as the centralized parties have gained support (Smer). The current coalition consists entirely of parties dependent on single individuals. Whether this trend will continue is an open question, but it is notable that the only parties without unambiguous centralization are those dependent on particular demographic groups (Religious believers, Hungarians). In this Slovakia is little different from other countries in the region, many of which have their own large core of highly-centralized (often relatively new or reconstructed) parties, many of which fail when their leaderships come under close scrutiny for corruption or other scandals.

40 The Future>Dominance?
Smer SDKÚ SNS MK HZDS KDH Since the 2006 election, Slovakia’s political scene has been remarkably stable, with the relative positions of parties almost unchanged. Fico’s Smer remains overwhelmingly more popular than its next nearest rivals, its 40% dwarfing the 12-14% averaged by SDKU and SNS. Below these stand another group of parties hovering between 8% and 11% (MKP/SMK, KDH and HZDS, all of them exhibiting, to varying degrees, a slight decline) and then the remainder well below the 5% threshold and unlikely to return to life without a major catastrophe among one of the major parties (and unlikely beneficiaries even then). It is unlikely In this environment that Fico’s popularity can increase (it is already considerably higher than any party has managed in Slovakia’s post-communist democratic history), and so the question is whether Smer can sustain this support or must face a long term decline. Economic problems (some introduced by the transition to the Euro) and corruption scandals (if they come) might have the biggest effect, but these are uncertain.

41 The Future>Dimensions
Nationalism SNS HZDS Communism State Control Anti-Communism Free Market Smer KDH SDKÚ MK Integration Combining the positions of the expert survey shows that parties are distributed across Slovakia’s two political dimensions but there are several gaps, particularly in the upper right quadrant (market-oriented nationals) and the lower left (integration-oriented (and, not shown here, culturally liberal) redistributionists. Of course not every quadrant must be filled and existing parties serve these voters to some extent, but some Slovak politicians must be wondering whether these spaces are available for competition. A splinter group of KDH led by Vladimir Palko explicitly announced its intention to compete in the upper right, but the party new party has not even passed the threshold of public recognition, much less public support. Others have openly or covertly contemplated competing in the lower left quadrant, but Smer has so successfully occupied the socio-economic left as to make this difficult to contemplate.

42 The Future>Dimensions
Nationalism SNS HZDS Communism State Control Anti-Communism Free Market Smer KDH SDKÚ MK Integration While the parties seem to line up along the redistributionist/nationalist v. market cosmopolitan axis (as political scientist Herbert Kitschelt predicted they would already in 1992 and as political scientists Hooghe and Marks found also to be the case in other post-communist countries) voters have not always done so, and have occupied all four quadrants relatively evenly. Recent polls show them beginning to congregate around the gray arrow shown above, though it is not clear whether this is a permanent shift (thus further restricting the viability of parties in the upper right and lower left quadrants) or if it is a function of the current parties that might change with a change in the menu offered by the party system. Because of the strong centralization of parties, such a change, while utterly unpredictable, is highly probably over the medium-term.

43 Thank you! This slideshow and other (overly technical) discussions of Slovakia’s politics (along with my address) can be found online at:

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