Former Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico’s Smer party is showing its muscle once again. Despite getting bounced out of power by Prime Minister Iveta Radičová’s four-party coalition in last June’s national election, Smer remains Slovakia’s hands-down favorite party, crushing all opponents in the November 27 municipal elections. Fico’s party won more mayor’s races than all four coalition parties combined. This defeat is likely to intensify squabbling between coalition members at a time when the government’s unpopular deficit-reduction measures are already stepping up intra-government tensions.
General punishment for the governing parties
Slovak voters handed the governing parties a humiliating defeat in the municipalities, just as they punished the Smer-led coalition four years ago. Most of Slovakia’s eight regional capitals will have Smer-supported mayors, though in some, the mayors will have to “co-habitate” with a city council dominated by their opponents (see table below). The capital is the most interesting: Bratislava’s new mayor, Milan Ftáčnik, is an independent supported by Smer – the city’s first center-left leader since 1990. However, the center-right coalition kept its majority in the city council.
Balance of Forces in Slovakia’s Eight Regional Capitals
*Nitra and Košice, outlined in red, blur the lines between government and opposition. The mayors in both cities ran on a ticket supported by both governing and opposition parties; Nitra’s council will also be controlled by a government-opposition coalition.
ABBREVIATIONS: SDKÚ-DS = Slovak Democratic and Christian Union – Democratic Party; KDH = Christian Democratic Movement; SNS = Slovak National Party; ĽS-HZDS = People’s Party – Movement for a Democratic Slovakia; SZ = Green Party; HZD = Movement for Democracy.
Turnout and Joint Candidates
Turnout was slightly below 50%, which is 2% higher than four years ago. As usual, voter participation was higher in villages and towns than in cities; turnout in Slovakia’s two biggest cities, Bratislava and Košice, was less than 34%.
Participation was 9% lower than in the June 12 parliamentary vote, and it is well known that opposition voters are more active in local elections than government supporters. Smer was therefore the undisputed winner, taking 599 mayoral races – more than all four governing parties combined. Smer’s candidates won an additional 300 mayor’s races on joint tickets with other parties.
Moreover, many mayors and municipal councilors ran as joint candidates of government and opposition parties:
Under pressure. The local election results make PM Radičová’s position even more uncomfortable. From the outside, she is facing pressure to cut the budget deficit, especially given the growing fears that the Irish crisis will spread to other Eurozone members. From the inside, voters are protest voting against next year’s austerity measures.
2011: The Coalition Test. The Radičová administration is putting the finishing touches on a €1.75 billion austerity budget for 2011 in order to cut Slovakia’s deficit from a forecast 7.8% of GDP in 2010 to 4.9% of GDP next year. The measures are intended to help Slovakia push its budget deficit below the Maastricht-mandated 3% of GDP by 2013. The IMF called this goal “very challenging” in a report published November 23.
The budget will slash public-sector wages, hike the value-added tax and boost excise taxes and fees. “Reducing the wage bill and curbing line ministries’ spending will be difficult and will require maintaining consensus within the government on expenditure rationalization,” the IMF report said.
While the four-party coalition is expected to approve the budget in the second week of December, the government is frayed by tensions that are likely intensify. The Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), the fourth-biggest party in Parliament, is the wild card: It differs from its coalition partners on economic policy, and more KDH candidates cooperated with Smer in the November 27 elections than any other governing party’s candidates. Should the KDH quit the coalition, Radičová would be finished.
Fiscal discipline may not be enough. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development recently downgraded its 2011 GDP-growth forecast for Slovakia from 3.9% to 3.5%. Slower economic growth means the tough 2011 budget may be insufficient for Slovakia to meet its deficit goal of 4.9% of GDP. (The OECD sees the budget shortfall at 5.2% of GDP in 2011 and 4% in 2012.)