Slovakia election: Centre-right populists win power after anti-corruption campaign

Ordinary People group claims resounding victory to unseat long-serving Smer-Social Democracy party

Samuel Lovett
Sunday 01 March 2020 10:45 GMT
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Igor Matovic, leader of the OLaNO, acknowledges victory on Saturday night during the party's election evening in Trnava
Igor Matovic, leader of the OLaNO, acknowledges victory on Saturday night during the party's election evening in Trnava

Slovakia’s centre-right party, the Ordinary People group (OLaNO), has been voted into power with a resounding victory over the country’s long serving but scandal-tainted left-wing government.

The OLaNO galvanised anti-corruption outrage surrounding the 2018 murders of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kusnirova to capture 25 per cent of the vote and 53 seats in Slovakia’s 150-seat parliament.

“We will try to create the best government Slovakia has ever had, with the help of the other leaders of the democratic opposition,” Igor Matovic, leader of the OLaNO, said after the exit poll results were announced for Saturday’s general election.

“It was the death of Jan Kuciak and Martina Kusnirova that woke up Slovakia,” he added.

The result unseats the centre-left Smer-Social Democracy party, which claimed just over 18 per cent of the vote after dominating Slovak politics for more than a decade.

Outgoing prime minister Peter Pellegrini has conceded defeat. “Congratulations to the election winner, good health, good luck,” he told Mr Matovic, adding: “He has good marketing, but we will be interested in how he will handle his office.”

The Smer-SD party has been in power for most of the past 14 years, winning big in every election since 2006. It gained 28.3 per cent in the last election in 2016 after campaigning on an anti-migrant ticket.

But the party was damaged by political turmoil following the murder of Kuciak, who had been investigating high-level corruption, and his finance.

The shooting rocked the nation and toppled then-prime minister Robert Fico, but his Smer-SD party remained in office, with Mr Pellegrini subsequently assuming office in March 2018.

Opposition protest party Sme Rodina (We Are Family) gained 8.26 per cent of the vote in Saturday’s general election, followed closely by the far-right People’s Party Our Slovakia (LSNS) – a group with an unabashed neo-Nazi past and prominent members who have been convicted for hate crimes.

All other parties have ruled out cooperation with the LSNS.

Pro-western Mr Matovic has made fighting corruption and attacking Smer-SD the central tenet of his campaign. An anti-corruption drive has been in his party’s programme since he established it 10 years ago.

As the president traditionally asks the election’s winner to try to form a government, he is the likeliest candidate for prime minister.

Mr Matovic is expected to govern with the pro-business Freedom and Solidarity party that won 6.2 per cent of the vote (13 seats) and the conservative For People established by former president Andrej Kiska, which finished with 5.8 per cent (12 seats).

Although the three would have a majority with 78 seats, Mr Matovic said he also wants to rule with We Are Family. “I’d like to assure everybody that there’s nothing to worry about,” he said. “We’re not here to fight cultural wars.”

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