EUROPEUM Institute for European Policy

On 16th March 2019, Slovakia held its historically fifth direct presidential elections, providing an opportunity to measure the country’s general mood and future direction. The first round of elections was significantly dominated by Zuzana Čaputová, a lawyer and a civil activist, who gained 40,6 % of the votes.

Čaputová’s success in the first round of the elections was expected. A significant rise in her popularity in the weeks preceding the elections started along with the debates of the candidates, where she gained a lot of sympathies by her performance, and subsequently rocketed after the decision of her biggest rival, Robert Mistrík, to resign from his candidature. This move was preceded by an escalating dispute between Čaputová and Mistrík’s supporters on social media, owing to a pre-existing agreement between the two candidates that one of them would step aside if there was a danger of an antisystem or extremist candidate appearing in the second round of the elections. However, instead of calming their voting camps, this was exactly the focal point for a since-continuous tension between the two very similar groups of liberal, pro-european voters. By resigning, after spending half a million euros and months of his life on a challenging campaign, Mistrík became a moral winner of the elections by honouring his agreement with Čaputová. His move will be remembered by progressive Slovaks as paving the way for a strong, progressive candidate around which they can rally.

Along with Čaputová, Maroš Šefčovič, the Slovak European Commissioner for the Energy Union with a support of the ruling SMER party, proceeded to the second round of Slovak presidential elections. He gained 18,7 % of the votes, which aligns with the last available survey of the SMER political party preferences. [1] Although Šefčovič claims to be an independent candidate, his rhetoric, as the elections draw nearer, has increasingly begun to resemble that of SMER’s, and he even joined Fico in the annual roadshow of Womens’ Day celebrations, known to aim at Slovak elderly and securing their votes for SMER.

With Čaputová leading by more than twice as many votes before entering the second round, Šefčovič praised a fresh start “from zero” during his speech at the end of the electoral night. However, with such a large discrepancy between the two candidates, it was expected that the two weeks of campaigning preceding the second round of the elections could get dirty.

This proved to be the case as Šefčovič began pushing his agenda strongly right after the first round, accusing Čaputová from dividing the Slovak nation instead of unifying it. [2] Through the week, Šefčovič continued to look for arguments supporting his smear campaign, varying from Čaputová’s language skills, through professional experience (associated practice) or political background. Šefčovič is being hard-pressed to resist the obvious temptation of tapping into the disenfranchised voter-segments, who predominantly voted on extremist and anti-systemic candidates in the first round. It pits Šefčovič in a precarious position as he has to synthesize nationalists, religious conservatives and socially disgruntled voters into a coherent campaign while somehow reconciling it with his own pre-existing brand of pro-European progressive politics and reputation, which he has cultivated meticulously over the past 15 years.

Even though the Slovak president does not possess any legislative power, therefore no rights to decide about registered partnerships or children adoption by same-sex couples, these topics were again among the dominant ones in the pre-election phase. Šefčovič tries to exploit these topics, subordinating them under his suitably and newly-found national and Christian agenda.

The disappointment, or more suitably the tragedy of the elections’ first round is the 25 % gained together by Štefan Harabin (14,4 %) and Marián Kotleba (10,4 %). These two candidates represent the anti-system, the extremism, the fake news, the anti-migrant opinions, and the dangerous side of nationalism. The aforementioned percentages are a shame for a nation which, only two days before the elections, commemorated the 80 years’ anniversary of the creation of fascist Slovak state. Such numbers cannot be neglected and it is now questionable, whether the supporters of these candidates will decide to stay home in the next round, or speak at the ballot boxes.

The survey published after the first round shows that Čaputová could gain another 180 000 votes, getting slightly over a million. [3] She is going to be mostly attractive for former Mikloško voters. Šefčovič, who attracted 400 000 of voters on Saturday, has a potential of getting to 630 000. It outlines a repetition of Čaputová’s success in the second round, while cementing the strength of the movement for societal change in Slovakia that has gained momentum in the wake of the murder of an investigative journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée. The drive of the progressive movement continues to manifest since the regional elections in 2017, through the enormous protests after Kuciak’s death and municipal elections in 2018, until now. Slovaks can hope for this trend to persist until the May 2019 European elections and the consequent 2020 Slovak parliamentary elections. The country not only needs internal stability, but also to secure its place among the Western democracies, fighting the regressive tendencies of some of its politicians.

If Čaputová gets elected into the Slovak presidential palace, Slovakia will continue to follow the route of decency, fairness and prosperity. During her campaign, she stayed authentic, did not engage in exaggerated emotional theatrics, and she responded to attacks aimed at her person with facts and arguments.

 

In case of her success, Slovakia would also become a good example for other Visegrad countries, which are currently experiencing problems with rule of law, populism and nationalism. The label of traditional family, so often used by Slovak politicians seeking power and pretending to defend traditional Christian values, seems to fade away as Čaputová represents a strong and divorced woman with a successful career.

In spite of very favourable results of the first round and the successive surveys, Čaputová can by no means consider it a given that she will win on Saturday 30th of March; Šefčovič was carried to the second round on the shoulders of the SMER party, which can be considered both a blessing and a curse given how divisive the party is to many Slovaks. However, with a diminished field of opposition, his extensive experience coupled with an emphasis on traditional family values and social political preference will make him an enticing alternative to most conservative voters. The battle for decent Slovakia is not won yet, but it seems to continue in the right direction.

Miroslava Pěčková

 

[1] In the last Focus survey from February 2019, SMER has a support of 21 %. Source: Focus Research, 28.2.2019, available here.

[2] Čaputová’s election slogan states that she wants to „fight the evil“. Her counter-candidate thus blamed her for distinguishing Slovak people as good and bad, according to their support for various candidates, even though she previously repeatedly explained in detail, that corruption, abuse of power and non-accountability for actions is what „evil“ in Slovakia stands for, in her opinion. Čaputová admitted that SMER’s politics was being part of her motivation to run for Slovak president.

[3] Denník N. Čaputovej vychádza milión hlasov, chcú ju aj voliči SNS, Harabina a Kotlebu (dáta a grafy).

 

 

Author :
Print

Leave a Reply