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Analysis: Vote-Fatigued Slovaks Send Pollsters Packing

For months, pollsters have been predicting that Slovakia's leftist Smer (Direction) party and its populist leader, Robert Fico, would win Slovakia's first elections to the European Parliament on 13 June. But, as in the April presidential elections -- when the polls forecast a victory for Eduard Kukan, the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKU) candidate who narrowly failed to make the runoff -- the polls were wrong again.

This time, however, it was not really the pollsters' fault. They had expected a low turnout, but not that low. Europe-wide turnout dropped to an average of 45.5 percent. In Slovakia, the turnout was just under 17 percent. Hardly six weeks after joining the European Union, less than one in five Slovaks bothered to vote. It was the lowest turnover in all 25 member states. Under these circumstances, the vote tells precious little about Slovak electoral behavior. With a turnout just some 5 percent higher, the result might have been entirely different.
Those formations did not find a way to mobilize supporters and make clear to them that the European Parliament, whose prerogatives have been extended, can have a direct influence on people's daily lives.

So, who are the winners? Much unlike elsewhere in the European Union, they are the current incumbents. The SDKU, the senior coalition partner, came out on top garnering 17.09 percent of the vote. The Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) scored 16.2 percent, and the Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) garnered 13.2 percent. Out of the four ruling coalition parties, only the Alliance for a New Citizen (ANO) failed to make it to Brussels and Strasbourg (the two official seats of the European Parliament), garnering less (4.65 percent) than the 5 percent hurdle for representation. At first sight, this is good news for Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda. His coalition can count on some 51 percent of the vote -- while in parliament the party lacks that majority.

Upon closer inspection, however, one notes that ANO, the party that has marched shoulder to shoulder with the SDKU in recent months, has failed to secure representation and that relations between Dzurinda and the leadership of the KDH and the SMK are far from cordial. It follows that even in the unlikely situation of a similar result in the Slovak election, Dzurinda and his SDKU might be in for a surprise.

Who, then, are the losers? First, they are those formations that failed to secure representation. Apart from ANO and a plethora of small parties with little chance of ever getting past the 5 percent hurdle (a total of 17 parties and coalitions competed in the election), the Communist Party of Slovakia (KSS), unlike in neighboring Czech Republic, stopped just short of that target, garnering 4.54 percent of the vote. The far-right Slovak National Party (SNS), which garnered 2.01 percent, is failing to return to its previous "respectability" of parliamentary representation.

Second, among the losers one should certainly count the opposition parties that cherished the hope of coming out on top. The Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), once the country's strongest party, garnered 17.04 percent. Smer certainly did less well than it hoped, but wasn't far away from the SDKU, having garnered 16.89 percent of the vote.

Who will represent the Slovaks in Strasbourg and Brussels? At the head of the SDKU lists, former ice hockey star Peter Stasny is one of several "colorful" candidates who tried their luck in the elections. Not all of them succeeded, however. Stasny was not the only ice hockey player to compete in the elections. So did Jozef Golonka, who failed to get elected on a SNS ticket. The other two new SDKU members of the European Parliament (MEP) are Milan Gala, a member of the party's parliamentary group and Zita Pletinska, who heads the Stara Lubovna district office. The HZDS will be represented by former Finance Minister Sergej Kozlik, former Agriculture Minister Peter Baco, and former Health Minister Irena Belohorska. Smer will have as MEPs: the party's Deputy Chairwoman Monika Belova, Milos Koterec, who is Slovak charge d'affaires at the NATO headquarters in Brussels, and Vladimir Manka, who is mayor of Zvolen in central Slovakia. The KDH representation will consist of Slovak parliamentary deputy Anna Zaborska, the former Slovak Ambassador to Canada Miroslav Mikolasik, and KDH official Jan Hudacky. Finally, the SMK is sending former Labor Ministry State Secretary Edit Bauer and Slovak parliamentary deputy Arpad Duka-Zolyomi to the European Parliament.

To what extent the 14 Slovak representatives may claim to speak legitimately for their citizens after being elected by so few voters is highly questionable. But the fault for the low turnout lies with their own parties. Those formations did not find a way to mobilize supporters and make clear to them that the European Parliament, whose prerogatives have been extended, can have a direct influence on people's daily lives. Far too soon after joining the EU, Slovaks apparently perceive the union's institutions as both distant and unimportant. Moreover, the election came in the wake of a two-week-long presidential election, which produced a surprise in itself. New President Ivan Gasparovic has been inaugurated on 15 June. Not under the best European auspices, it would seem.