March 22, 2012
“European Stocks Drop on Slovakia’s Uncertainty”, read one of the many newspaper headlines published in the international media back in early October 2011. As the European nations moved towards specific steps needed to save Greece from uncontrolled bankruptcy, one member of Slovakia’s ruling coalition – liberal “Sloboda a Solidarita” (Freedom and Solidarity – SaS) – found it difficult to honor its own name and to show solidarity towards troubled Greece and the European Union as a whole. On October 11, Slovakia was the very last of 17 eurozone countries to vote on support for the eurozone bailout fund known as the EFSF. To put pressure on SaS and to get the vote to pass, Slovakia’s prime minister chose to link the bailout vote with a vote of confidence for the coalition government. With the main opposition party, Smer, pursuing its own interests, the resolution failed and the government lost the vote of confidence: only 55 MPs voted in favor of the resolution. On October 12, 2011, Slovakia woke up to a day of hectic negotiations that eventually led to a political agreement between the ruling coalition and Smer on an early election. The next day, the Slovak Parliament approved the law on the early election and set it for March 10, 2012. On the same day, the eurozone bailout fund received comfortable support from 112 Mps.
The Slovak euro-crisis was over and so were 15 months of endless quarrels between the four right-of-center political parties that narrowly and unexpectedly formed a government after the June 2010 election. Back then, quasi-social democratic party Smer was the clear winner of the election with almost 35% of votes, but it was unable to find coalition partners willing to share power. The second-strongest party in the 2010 election, SDKÚ, ended up with 15.4% but received the support of the other three right-of-center parties – liberal SaS (12%), conservative Catholic party KDH (8.5%) and Most-Híd (8%), a party running on a platform of Slovak-Hungarian cooperation. The last party with enough votes to narrowly get into Parliament in 2010 was nationalistic SNS – but with too few MPs to help Smer form a government. Due to the way the Slovak parliamentary system works, the four right-of-center parties got 79 seats in Parliament – 4 more than the minimum needed for a majority in the body of 150 and for forming a majority coalition government.
As expected, tensions between coalition members erupted almost immediately after the election and, as expected, many of these conflicts were between liberal SaS and conservative KDH, although some occurred between factions within parties. In addition, it became clear very soon that new Prime Minister Iveta Radičová – the first female prime minister in Slovakia’s history and, at the time, the second-most popular politician in Slovakia after Smer’s leader, Robert Fico – lacked solid support inside her own party, SDKÚ. Despite Radičová’s being the leader on the list of SDKÚ candidates and becoming prime minister, the party itself remained under the chairmanship of Mikuláš Dzurinda, an unpopular but extremely ambitious politician who also became minister of foreign affairs in the Radičová government. While ongoing tensions in the government were generated to a great degree by political newcomer SaS – and eventually led to the failed vote of confidence and the early election – it was the tensions between popular Radičová and unpopular but in SDKÚ influential Dzurinda that ultimately led to Radičová’s decision not to run in the early election and later to leave SDKÚ, which had proved too deeply entrenched in corruption and impossible to reform. SDKÚ paid heavily for this, as well as for a massive corruption scandal that became known as the “Gorilla.”
Dr. Juraj Mesík is a Slovak civic and environmental activist and university lecturer.