- A change in government is expected, even though the political balance of power did not shift significantly. The three parties currently in government – Prime Minister Robert Fico’s Smer party, the People's Party–Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (LS-HZDS) and the Slovak National Party (SNS) – won a combined 44.2% of the vote compared to 49.7% in 2006.
- Two brand-new formations, Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) and Híd-Most, took more than a fifth of the vote combined.
- The next government will probably be formed by four center-right parties: The Slovak Christian and Democratic Union (SDKÚ), the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), the SaS and Híd-Most. However, the coalition will be fragile and its majority will be paper-thin.
- When it comes to relations between Slovaks and the ethnic-Hungarian minority, it appears that most voters support policies based upon conciliation, not conflict. Most people were not swayed by tensions generated by the Hungarian government’s recent decision to offer ethnic Hungarians dual nationality on an expedited basis. This is also reflected in the fact that the right-wing extremist SNS failed to improve its political fortunes with its anti-Hungarian campaign.
- The Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK), which took a confrontational stance toward ethnic politics, failed to reach the 5% threshold for parliamentary representation. Híd-Most, which broke off from the SMK to pursue policies based on inter-ethnic cooperation, performed better than expected, winning support from the Slovak majority.
- It remains to be seen whether Slovak-Hungarian diplomatic tensions will ease.
Winners and Losers
- The HZDS, which dominated Slovak politics in the 1990s, failed to reach the 5% threshold. The election’s biggest loser is therefore the party’s leader, onetime political heavyweight Vladimír Mečiar. While it may be too early to write Mečiar’s political epitaph, he is likely to disappear from the political scene.
- Pál Csáky, leader of the ethnic-Hungarian SMK, resigned after his party failed to win any seats in Parliament. Híd-Most, which broke away from the SMK to pursue a more conciliatory brand of ethnic politics, took more than 8%. Híd-Most’s success dramatically alters the landscape of ethnic-Hungarian politics. Budapest must adapt to this new environment, while the SMK will probably fade into obscurity.
- The strength of Híd-Most’s message is evident in the fact that it performed well even outside ethnic-Hungarian regions. The party took more than 8% in the Bratislava region, where the SMK won less than 1%. Híd-Most also bested the SMK in Trnava and Nitra, which have the greatest concentration of ethnic Hungarians, and in the Košice region, where the party took 10.1% compared to 5.3% for the SMK.
- The election’s biggest winner, Prime Minister Robert Fico, is also a loser. Although Fico’s Smer party performed better than in 2006 and won more than twice as many votes as the second-place SDKÚ, it will be unable to form a government.
- The second-place SDKÚ will probably be the biggest force in the next government. The party beat Smer in the Bratislava region 27.6% to 25.1%.
- The Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) took more than 8% for the third time running.
- The biggest winner is the SaS, a brand-new liberal formation. Like the SDKÚ, the SaS enjoys its strongest support in Bratislava and other big cities.
Difficult coalition talks loom ahead
- Slovak President Ivan Gašparovič has asked Prime Minister Robert Fico to form a government since Smer won the most votes. The premier will do everything he can to gain a majority by tempting one of the right-wing opposition parties to his side. Fico’s main target will likely be Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) president Jan Figel, with whom he held informal talks before the election. Figel has ruled out a coalition with Smer, but Fico may come back with a surprise offer.
- The success of any Fico-Figel negotiations depends on how talks shape up between the four center-right/liberal parties (SDKÚ, KDH, SaS and Híd-Most). The KDH will be able to use its “kingmaker” role as leverage during its talks with both sides (although voters would certainly punish the KDH if it joined a Smer-led coalition).
- The four-party coalition talks will be hampered by arguments over the government program and cabinet assignments. The SDKÚ is the strongest, but not strong enough to force the others to accept its priorities during the negotiations.
- If the four opposition parties manage to form a government, as appears likely, the coalition will be fragile.
- Narrow majority. The governing majority will be thin (79 mandates to 71). If four MPs defect, its government’s majority will evaporate.
- Internal conflicts. The four-party coalition will be divided along ideological lines, with the SDKÚ and KDH representing center-right/Christian-democratic politics and the SaS and Híd-Most taking a liberal line. The two sides will be in continuous confrontation with each other to avoid losing their political identities. There is also a chance the coalition will split prematurely (although a similarly eclectic government managed to rule the country between 1998 and 2002).
- Populist opposition. The opposition will be able to make things uncomfortable for the government. Both Smer and the extreme right-wing Slovak National Party (SNS) will be free to take hard-line populist positions – especially since they will no longer be restricted by the limitations of being in government.
- The coalition will be composed of parties with similar economic policies. The new government will probably take action to reduce the budget deficit (which is on track to reach 8% of GDP by year’s end) and public debt (which is trending above 40% of GDP), thereby avoiding a “Greek scenario.”
New relations between Budapest and Hungarian minorities
- Fidesz, which scored an overwhelming victory in Hungary’s elections last April, ratcheted up diplomatic tensions with Slovakia last month by creating an expedited process for ethnic Hungarians to apply for dual citizenship. The Slovak government regarded this as an encroachment on its sovereignty.
- The strategy apparently backfired, achieving precisely the opposite of what Fidesz expected:
- The SNS’s position weakened dramatically; Smer managed to benefit most.
- The Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) failed to reach the 5% threshold – despite an endorsement from Fidesz.
- Híd-Most took more than 8% of the vote. They gained support from ethnic Slovaks, thereby breaking the traditional “ethnic party” mold.
- The election results will force Fidesz to rethink its relationship with Híd-Most and its leader, Béla Bugár. Fidesz will also have to reconcile itself to Bugár’s policy of pursuing ethnic-minority interests through cooperation and dialogue.
- The Slovak election’s results show that Budapest cannot direct political decisions for Hungarian minorities in neighboring countries. The Hungarian government will have to get used to the fact that the political future of the Carpathian Basin’s Hungarian minorities does not lie in ethnic-based parties.
Ethnic tensions are likely to ease
- The Slovak National Party (SNS), battered by corruption scandals, failed to win back significant support through its aggressive anti-Hungarian campaign. Still, the strategy managed to push the party just above 5%.
- The SMK dropped out of Parliament and Híd-Most performed better than expected. This indicates that most ethnic-Hungarian voters in Slovakia favor more moderate policies – for example, Híd-Most does not strongly favor dual nationality for ethnic Hungarians.
- Híd-Most managed to attract ethnic-Slovak voters despite its roots in Hungarian-minority politics. The SMK and Híd-Most together took 12.5% of the vote; ethnic Hungarians make up 9.7% of Slovakia’s population, according to the 2001 census. In previous elections, ethnic-Hungarian parties’ share of the vote was more or less equal to the share of Hungarian-minority voters.
- Híd-Most’s role in the incoming coalition will provide ammunition to anti-Hungarian opposition forces in the short term. This will place pressure on the governing parties.
- Conflicts between Roma and Slovaks are likely to become increasingly prominent, eventually replacing the role of Slovak-Hungarian tensions. Gypsies are far less integrated into Slovak society than Hungarians. Also, the number of Slovak citizens who consider themselves ethnic Hungarian is declining, while the Roma share of the population is growing – currently making up an estimated 9% (see table below).
The Roma population in Central and Eastern European countries*
*Census data for the Roma population is often unreliable since many Gypsies are reluctant to declare their ethnicity. Scientific estimates of the actual number of Roma are therefore necessary. Source: Mizsei, 20061
How much will Slovak-Hungarian relations change?
- The new political environment will facilitate dialogue between the two governments, but will not be an instant panacea for diplomatic tension.
- Slovakia’s center-right opposition was not happy with Fidesz’s decisions to modify the dual-nationality law and to declare June 4 a national day of remembrance for the Trianon treaty (which dismembered Greater Hungary after World War I and created an independent Czechoslovakia). In the center-right’s view, Fidesz’s decisions spurred Slovak nationalist sentiment in the middle of the election campaign, benefitting Fico and Smer.
- The center-right is also critical of Hungary’s new dual-nationality policy. Iveta Radičová, the favorite to replace Fico as prime minister, has proposed asking the International Court of Justice in The Hague to rule on the issue. This demonstrates that no major changes are likely in Slovakia’s relations with its southern neighbor, even if Fico loses power.
 Kálmán Mizsei, “Development opportunities for the Roma in Central and Eastern Europe – Impediments and Challenges,” Comparative Economic Studies, 2006/48, pp. 1-5.