Left, right and centre in central Europe

Forming government isn’t a rapid process in central Europe. Six weeks after Slovenia’s general election, the country’s parliament votes tonight on the nomination of political newcomer Miro Cerar as the new prime minister. Cerar’s eponymous party won more than a third of the vote and 36 of the 90 seats, well clear of any of the six other parties represented.

It’s expected that Cerar will win the vote comfortably, giving him a mandate to form a centre-left coalition with the pensioners’ party DeSUS and the Social Democrats. The three parties between them hold a comfortable 52 seats.

Slovenia is having a hard time pulling out of the European financial crisis. Cerar’s victory was at least to some extent a vote against austerity, although it seems that official corruption was much more in the voters’ minds. Cerar has declared himself a sceptic about large-scale privatisation, but clearly some economic restructuring is going to be necessary, and he has already nominated a reform-minded finance minister, Dušan Mramor.

The Reuters report refers to the election as “giving the strong mandate his predecessors have lacked and potentially helping restore stability after years of turbulence and weak government.” But while that’s a nice idea, the presence in the new government of DeSUS – which has contrived to be part of almost every Slovenian government for more than a decade by frequently switching sides – may not be an auspicious sign.

The Slovenian change of government provides the opportunity to review the political direction of central Europe in general. A recent Wall Street Journal piece draws attention to the contrast between the roads taken by Hungary and the Czech Republic. Hungary under the Orbán government has veered towards the hard right, explicitly rejecting liberalism and aligning itself with Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

The Czechs, on the other hand, despite a chaotic election result last year, seem content to pursue the liberal road. The biggest gains in that election went to Action of Dissatisfied Citizens (ANO), a liberal party led by billionaire Andrej Babiš. He is now finance minister in a three-party centre-left coalition, and ANO leads in current opinion polls.

Slovenia is another example of central Europe shifting away from the right. It joins Croatia and Slovakia with centre-left governments, with Poland also effectively in the liberal camp (the government is nominally centre-right, but its main opposition is further to the right so it can best be described as centrist).

That’s not to say that these governments are all on the same wavelength; Slovakia’s Robert Fico, for example, is also something of a Putin fan. But it seems that Hungary’s particular brand of authoritarian conservatism has failed to strike a chord with its neighbors, even though its results so far in terms of the Hungarian economy have been reasonably impressive.

While governments often stand or fall on their economic record, voters in central Europe have enough experience of war, dictatorship and political turmoil – both in their own recent past and to this day in nearby Ukraine – to know that there are more important things than economics. Multiparty government and a certain amount of economic sclerosis probably seem an acceptable price to pay for avoiding the slide into authoritarianism.

One thought on “Left, right and centre in central Europe

  1. This article is a very simplified version of the state of politics in central Europe. For one thing central European politics is extremely isolated from each other. We can not analyze the direction of central European politics in general because their is no “central European politics in general” just states in Europe in central Europe who each have their own political dynamics.

    For example Slovenia has for most of its history been dominated by social liberals. The current Slovenian government is basically one group of social liberals lead by Miro Cerar taking over from another group of social liberals lead by Alenka Bratusek. In Croatia the natural ruling Christian democratic party is up in the polls against the opposition left wing coalition. In Bulgaria the center right GERB party is ahead in the polls with two months to go till the elections. Even the indestructible Robert Fico has been humbled after he lost the Slovakian presidential election by ten points. If you were to find a country which the left really has a lock on it would be Romania were the center right is near extinction. None the less like most of Europe, and unlike in Australian states, what happens in one state does not translate across national boarders politically since the fall of the iron curtain.

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