Europe’s refugee crisis has in most countries reflected reasonably familiar divisions: political leaders on the right have been less sympathetic to refugees, those on the left rather more so. The big exception to the first of those has been Germany’s Angela Merkel, who is not up for re-election until next year; the big exception to the second, Slovakia’s Robert Fico, faces his country’s voters tonight.
Fico has been in power since 2012, when his centre-left Smer-Social Democracy became the first party in post-Communist Slovakia to win a majority in its own right (he had previously governed in coalition from 2006 to 2010). There’s no doubt that it will remain the largest party, but staying in power won’t be quite so simple.
After a period of highly successful integration into the European Union, things are no longer looking so rosy in central Europe. The influx of refugees has revealed a deep division between “old” Europe (led by Germany), which for all its internal tensions remains fundamentally cosmopolitan in outlook, and the “new” Europe (led by Hungary and Poland), which sees the refugee issue through a nativist lens and recognises no obligation to offer asylum. Fico’s government stands firmly in the second camp.
In the 2012 election, Smer-Social Democracy won 44.4% of the vote to take 83 seats in the 149-seat parliament (voting is a single nationwide proportional ballot, with a 5% threshold). Five other parties won seats, all broadly centre or centre-right, ranging from the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH; 8.8% and 16 seats) down to Freedom and Solidarity (5.9% and 11 seats).
Just below the threshold were the far-right Slovak National Party (4.5%) and the Party of the Hungarian Coalition, representing Slovakia’s ethnic Hungarian minority (4.3%). This time the far right seem certain to make it, while the Hungarians are again hovering near the threshold.
Of the five currently represented opposition parties, one, the Democratic and Christian Union, which won 11 seats last time, looks certain to drop out. But there’s a new party in the field as well: Siet, or Network, a centrist party that is now running second to Smer-SD in the opinion polls.
So it looks as if there could be anything up to eight parties in the new parliament, with no obvious allies for Smer-SD among them – although Fico did notoriously take the far right into coalition back in 2006. KDH leader Jan Figel is looking to co-operate with Network and another centrist party, Most-Hid (“Bridge”, in Slovak and Hungarian), to present an alternative to the centre-left, but they may well need some smaller parties as well for a majority.
Whatever one thinks of his anti-immigrant stance (which, to be fair, none of his opponents seem likely to modify), Fico has generally been a very successful leader: the country’s economy is in pretty good shape, and in a region where scandals and hints of authoritarianism are common, Slovakia seems less affected than most. His success is reflected in the relative lack of traction for extremists.
Voters, however, showed that they were aware of the dangers of concentrating power when they rejected Fico’s attempt to move up to the presidency two years ago, choosing instead an independent businessman supported by the centre-right.
No-one doubts that the government will lose ground; the question is whether a governing majority will emerge among its opponents, or whether Smer-SD will be well enough placed to pick off a potential partner and remain in power. It may – or may not – all be clearer tomorrow.