Slovakia election approaches, with controversial former prime minister leading polls – Europe live

Populist party leading in Slovakia, poll shows

Former Slovak prime minister Robert Fico’s Smer party has a narrow lead ahead of an election on Saturday, according to a poll published late on Tuesday.

The populist Smer party stands at 18%, with the liberal Progressive Slovakia coming second at 16.6%.

Hlas, a possible kingmaker formed by politicians who had left Fico’s Smer, is at 13.7%.

A host of other parties are polling at below 10%. The far-right Republika is at 7.7%.

Polling was conducted by the Focus agency for TV Markíza.

Slovakia polling statistics screenshot
Slovakia September 2023 polling. Photograph: Focus Marketing and Social Research

Key events

More readers weigh in

Peter writes in from Bratislava: “It is going to be a great showdown in Slovakia on Saturday. It is hard to understand where the pro-Russian and pro-Orbán feelings among the population stem from but it is very concerning and disappointing.”

“Especially older people and pensioners vote for the populist parties … So if these parties win, it is going to be very shameful for the country and its geopolitical position and could lead to isolation,” he wrote.

“That’s why it is now important to mobilise voters,” he added.

Send your thoughts: [email protected].

A picture taken on May 30, 2023 shows a boat on the river with the buildings of the Petrzalka housing estate in the background, in Bratislava, Slovakia. General elections are scheduled for September 30 in Slovakia.
A picture taken on May 30, 2023 shows a boat on the river with the buildings of the Petrzalka housing estate in the background, in Bratislava, Slovakia. General elections are scheduled for September 30 in Slovakia. (Photo by LUDOVIC MARIN / AFP) (Photo by LUDOVIC MARIN/AFP via Getty Images) Photograph: Ludovic Marin/AFP/Getty Images

US to Fico: peace without demanding Russian withdrawal is appeasement

The American ambassador in Bratislava, Gautam Rana, said this week that he has “been very clear” with Robert Fico about the importance of continuing support for Ukraine.

In an interview with Peter Dlhopolec, the editor-in-chief of The Slovak Spectator, the American diplomat said that “Fico as prime minister took his role as a NATO ally seriously, and maintained a relationship with the EU.”

“Fico and I have had multiple engagements, and I’ve been very clear to him from the US perspective that, one, Ukraine is a national security issue for Slovakia as well as NATO, frankly, for Europe, which means it’s a national security interest for the United States,” the ambassador said.

“I don’t think Slovaks want Russian soldiers on their border. I don’t think Slovaks want re-imposition of the Iron Curtain. I don’t think Slovaks want to fall under Russian tyranny again,” Rana said.

“And so I’ve been very clear to Fico about this, that it’s important and imperative for Slovakia to continue supporting Ukraine,” he added.

“And secondly, to call for peace without also demanding the withdrawal of Russian forces from Ukraine is appeasement. This is what happened in 1938 when Adolf Hitler was appeased and the Czechs and Slovaks suffered. I’ve said this to Fico directly,” the ambassador said.

‘Shocking’ that Smer sits with European socialists, progressive politician says

Martin Hojsík, the vice president of Progressive Slovakia and a member of the European parliament, told the Guardian that the failure of past governments to deliver on promises, combined with mishandling of the Covid crisis and massive misinformation on social media, have led to Robert Fico’s rise in the polls.

Progressive Slovakia is a member of the centrist Renew Europe group in the European parliament, while Fico’s Smer sits with the Socialists and Democrats group.

Hojsík said that what is “shocking from a European context” is that there is a “Slovak member party of the Socialists and Democrats group, openly lining themselves up with Putin, rejecting military support for Ukraine, attacking [the] LGBTI community, so essentially going against the core values of their own political family in Europe”.

Jon Henley

Jon Henley

Slovakia’s Saturday election is unlikely to end the political turbulence that has dogged the country since the murder of a journalist in 2018, but it could have serious ramifications for Ukraine.

Check out this explainer on the upcoming vote.

Readers weigh in

Juraj writes from Bratislava: “This feels like the most important election for us in more than 20 years. I’ve cancelled a vacation to stay at home and vote.”

“I don’t remember the country being as polarised before as it is right now. I live in Bratislava and will be voting for Progressive Slovakia. To make it short mostly because I don’t want Slovakia to become like Hungary under Orbán,” he said.

Juraj also describes deep divisions around him. “Pretty much all the people around me will be voting the same, but some of my friends have told me the elections are creating issues in their families. A lot of people in Slovakia, mostly older ones, have been consuming Russian propaganda for years and will be voting for Fico’s Smer or the far right.”

“I’m trying to be optimistic but I’m a bit sceptical about the result. We’ll find out on Saturday,” he writes.

A picture taken on May 30, 2023 shows the Central Square (Hlavne Namestie) in the old distric of Bratislava, Slovakia. (Photo by LUDOVIC MARIN / AFP) (Photo by LUDOVIC MARIN/AFP via Getty Images)
The Central Square (Hlavne Namestie) in the old district of Bratislava, Slovakia. Photograph: Ludovic Marin/AFP/Getty Images

Slovak election race still ‘open’, analyst says

While populist former prime minister Robert Fico’s Smer is narrowly leading in the polls, various outcomes are still possible for Slovakia’s next government.

Milan Nič, a senior research fellow at the German Council on Foreign Relations and an expert on Slovakia, told the Guardian this morning that while nationalist and isolationist voters are decided, others – including even some conservative Catholics – are shifting their preferences.

Some centre-right urban voters – faced with small parties that risk failing to garner sufficient votes to enter parliament – are flocking to the Progressive Slovakia party, the expert said.

The landscape has shifted compared to last week, according to Nič, who said that Fico appears nervous.

“Now I think a more likely scenario is a hung parliament, where you cannot form a government,” Nič said, underscoring that smaller parties will likely determine the ultimate shape of a future coalition. “It will be difficult negotiations,” he said, adding that at this stage he can imagine a scenario where Progressive Slovakia comes ahead of Smer.

Leader of Progressive Slovakia (Progresivne Slovensko) party Michal Simecka leaves after an electoral TV debate on September 26, 2023 in Bratislava. (Photo by VLADIMIR SIMICEK / AFP) (Photo by VLADIMIR SIMICEK/AFP via Getty Images)
The leader of the Progressive Slovakia party, Michal Simecka, after an electoral TV debate on 26 September 26 in Bratislava. Photograph: Vladimír Šimíček/AFP/Getty Images

‘A huge storm’: polarised Slovakia on a knife edge ahead of elections

Jason Burke

Jason Burke

When Valeria Schulczová launched the new programme of Bratislava’s Hviezdoslav theatre she did not anticipate any great controversy. As director, she had chosen a series of provocative, but not outrageous, productions for the coming season. But Schulczová had reckoned without the febrile politics and deep polarisation of her country before parliamentary elections on 30 September.

The main image advertising the new season suggested a stained glass window, a reference to the Stalinist-era decorations of the theatre, with young people marching below Ukrainian, anti-fascist and rainbow flags.

Within days, the inboxes of Schulczová and her staff were flooded with threats of rape and decapitation. An online petition demanding her dismissal was signed by thousands. An MP called her a “barbarian”. Outside the theatre, police intervened as rightwing protesters organised by a biker gang linked to extremist pro-Russian groups scuffled with opponents.

“The main message of our image was just to show very liberal young people today in Bratislava, happy and content under these flags but also somehow forgetful of the lessons of the past about authoritarianism and dictatorship,” Schulczová, 48, said. “If there had been no elections, no one would have noticed. But they did and made a huge storm.”

Read the full story here.

Robert Fico, leader of the SMER-SSD party, Michal Simecka, leader of Progressive Slovakia party, and Peter Pellegrini, leader of HLAS party await for the televised debate to begin at TV TA3, prior to the Slovak early parliamentary election, in Bratislava, Slovakia, September 26, 2023.
Robert Fico, leader of the SMER-SSD party, Michal Simecka, leader of Progressive Slovakia party, and Peter Pellegrini, leader of HLAS party await for a televised debate to begin, prior to the Slovak early parliamentary election. Photograph: Radovan Stoklasa/Reuters

More polling shows Smer with narrow lead

A poll published this morning puts Robert Fico’s Smer at 20.6% followed closely by Progressive Slovakia at 19.8%.

The poll, conducted by the Ipsos agency for Denník N, put Hlas at 11.9%.

Slovakia polling for September 2023
Slovakia polling for September 2023. Photograph: Ipsos for Denník N

Candidates in Slovakia’s election appeared in a televised debate yesterday – and had very different assessments of how it went.

Smer’s Robert Fico – a former prime minister whose party is narrowly leading in the polls – referred to Progressive Slovakia leader Michal Šimečka as mere continuation of chaos and instability.

Šimečka, a 39-year-old vice-president of the European parliament, tried to underline his relatively newcomer status in Slovak politics.

In a Facebook post, Šimečka argued that the debate showed his party’s rivals were nervous because Progressive Slovakia wants to change Slovakia’s politics and has a real chance of winning.

Robert Fico, leader of the Smer-SSD party, and Michal Šimečka, leader of Progressive Slovakia, greet each other before a televised debate in Bratislava
Robert Fico, leader of the Smer-SSD party, and Michal Šimečka, leader of Progressive Slovakia, greet each other before Tuesday’s televised debate in Bratislava. Photograph: Radovan Stoklasa/Reuters

Populist party leading in Slovakia, poll shows

Former Slovak prime minister Robert Fico’s Smer party has a narrow lead ahead of an election on Saturday, according to a poll published late on Tuesday.

The populist Smer party stands at 18%, with the liberal Progressive Slovakia coming second at 16.6%.

Hlas, a possible kingmaker formed by politicians who had left Fico’s Smer, is at 13.7%.

A host of other parties are polling at below 10%. The far-right Republika is at 7.7%.

Polling was conducted by the Focus agency for TV Markíza.

Slovakia polling statistics screenshot
Slovakia September 2023 polling. Photograph: Focus Marketing and Social Research

Opening summary

Good morning and welcome back to the Europe live blog.

Slovaks go to the polls on Saturday, and today we will be delving into the country’s election campaign – and why it has garnered so much international attention.

All eyes are on Robert Fico, a controversial populist former prime minister whose Smer party is leading in the polls.

Fico has criticised western sanctions against Russia and said Slovakia should not provide Ukraine with more weapons. Plus, rights advocates have raised concerns that the former leader is inciting hate against the LGBTQ+ community.

Fico’s critics say they fear that if he returns to power, he would undermine democratic institutions and shift Slovakia’s foreign policy. Smer, however, has rejected these concerns as unfounded.

Are you voting in Saturday’s election in Slovakia? We want to hear from you. Send comments to [email protected].

source: theguardian.com