Slovakia’s election sees rise of anti-corruption party and demise of ethnic Hungarian parties

Slovakia held parliamentary elections on Saturday, February 29th and the vote was significant for two reasons. First, it brought the victory of the curiously named “Ordinary People” party (OĽaNO), which swept to power on a populist anti-corruption platform, garnering 25% of the vote. Second, for Hungarians, the election was an unhappy turning point, in that no Hungarian party passed the 5% threshold required for representation in Slovakia’s parliament, the 150-member National Council. This is the first time since the establishment of independent Slovakia in 1992 that not a single Hungarian party will sit in parliament, even though Hungarians still comprise 8.5% of the country’s population and are clustered mostly in the southern regions of the country, near the Danube. The defeat of ethnic Hungarian parties is mostly a byproduct of a divide between the more centrist Most-Híd party of Slovak-Hungarian dialogue and the conservative Party of the Hungarian Community (Magyar Közösség Pártja – MKP) which enjoys the support of the Orbán government in Budapest. But Most-Híd’s involvement with Slovak coalition governments, including with Slovak nationalist forces, led to a marked decline in the party’s credibility within the Hungarian community.

The final results of the elections are as follows — with percentages (and seats won):

  • Ordinary People: 25.02% (53)
  • Direction – Social Democracy: 18.29% (38)
  • We Are Family: 8.24% (17)
  • People’s Party Our Slovakia: 7.97% (17)
  • Freedom and Solidarity: 6.22 (13)
  • For the People 5.77% (12)
  • Christian Democratic Movement: 4.65 (0)
  • Party of the Hungarian Community: 3.90 (0)
  • Slovak National Party: 3.16% (0)
  • Good Choice: (3.06%)
  • Most-Híd: 2.05% (0)

Most – Híd campaigning in early 2020.

As is evident from the numbers above, Slovakia has a highly fragmented party system. Slovaks also appear to have a propensity for creative and peculiar party names. Having turfed Smer (Direction – Social Democracy) from power, which it held since 2012, and before from 2006 to 2010, during a period marred by corruption, a politically motivated murder and rising authoritarianism, Igor Matovič of Ordinary People must now find coalition partners. Their preferred partner appears to be Freedom and Solidarity (SAS), a socially liberal, but fiscally conservative party which is also mildly eurosceptic. Ordinary People is also an ally of former Slovak president Andrej Kiska, who now leads the Za ľudí (For the People) party, which is broadly centrist in outlook. Notably, Kiska suggested on election night that Hungarians, now without representation at the national level, can trust him to keep their interests in mind and to advocate for these in parliament.

Although Hungarians no longer have their own party in the Slovak parliament, it wasn’t only Kiska who reached out to the Hungarian minority. OĽaNO and SaS both committed to representing the interests of the Hungarian community and indeed, some Hungarians chose to vote for these parties, rather support the political infighting within the Hungarian community itself.

While the Party of the Hungarian Community initially attempted to spin their defeat as a step in the right direction, insofar as their Hungarian rival, Most-Híd, ended up with an even worse result and may now disappear completely, by Monday reality had set in. Both the leaderships of Híd and MKP resigned.

It remains to be seen whether an ethnic party can resurrect itself in Slovakia and whether Hungarian voters even feel that one is needed. An equally critical question is whether the main Slovak parties will now make more of an effort to field ethnic Hungarian candidates in future elections. At the moment, there is some goodwill to represent Hungarian interests, but these same Slovak parties have not taken steps to include Hungarians near the top of party lists. And we know that in such a fragmented proportional system, only the top candidates on each party list make it into parliament.

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