The weekend general elections in Slovakia were supposed to be a big defeat for Smer-SD and a victory for the “forces of good”. Participation was to reach at least 90 percent and civil society to record the biggest uprising in the history of independent Slovakia.
If you were following Facebook in the run up to the election, you might have believed the hype.
Real life, however, is more complex than enthusiastic selfies taken at polling stations. So, back to reality.
Participation was over 65 percent, which still marked the largest turnout in two decades, which is usually five percentage points lower in Slovakia. The elections did not result in a total disaster for Smer but did deliver a real debacle for the new politicians represented by Progressive Slovakia.
Essentially saw what was supposed to be new, liberal Slovakia end up exploding.
It was never expected that the coalition of Progressive Slovakia and Together would crush the competition. Still, very few assumed that the party would fail to even reach parliament at all. Moreover, the party needed only four-tenths of a percent, equating to a 1,000 more votes, to reach the necessary 5-percent threshold.
Honestly, one would expect a more confident outcome from a party or coalition that previously won three other elections in Slovakia, including the presidential, European, and those in the capital of Bratislava.
Maybe it underestimated the local conservative voters. Maybe it was too elitist, indecisive, and lacked understanding for people with different opinions.
The For the People Party of ex-President Andrej Kiska had similar problems, however, it was lucky enough to reach the threshold. Given how popular Kiska used to be, his party’s result was an extremely poor one.
That is why it is difficult to agree with Kiska’s claim that he was again part of the defeat of Fico. Maybe in a parallel universe where his party got 12 percent of the votes, but in the Slovak reality, the party only managed 5.8 percent, while Smer reached more than 18 percent.
So Igor Matovič won — the loud, unpredictable, anti-system politician who is the opposite of the liberal new faces that preach thousands of solutions for a better country.
We wanted Slovakia to protest. So it did. But no one expected how strong the protest would actually be.
The two winners in Slovak elections
By the way, the much-anticipated brutal fall of Smer did not happen again. Exit polls suggested a result of about 13 percent, and Peter Pellegrini (prematurely) spoke of changes in party leadership.
But in the end, the party got more than 18 percent. It did not win for the first time in many years, but it certainly wasn’t a crushing defeat.
Election leader of Smer-SD, Peter Pellegrini, received 413,000 preferential votes. Only Igor Matovič performed better with 490,000 votes. Robert Fico was far behind but ranked as the third most popular politician, and Smer became the second strongest party.
Basically, those who hate Smer voted for Matovič. Those who fear uncertainty voted for Smer. The strength of both depends on the ostracization of the other.
Therefore, on a personal level, the Slovak elections have two winners. Matovič, who has massive support from voters and can laugh at all who despised him, including Kiska.
And the second winner is Pellegrini. Hundreds of thousands of votes for his name will probably strengthen his position in Smer. If he wants, he will become untouchable.
What comes next in Slovak politics?
However, no one knows what Prime Minister Matovič will prove to be just as it is not clear what his government end up being – whether Kiska will be part of it or whether he will be an opposition member of the parliament along with Fico. No one knows the government’s economic program or what it will do with schools or health care.
Matovič could be a pleasant surprise that will make Slovaks happy. But it is also likely that in a year, perhaps earlier, Slovakia could face early elections.
In that case, Fico was given only time to relax, and his party could easily return stronger and more dominant. We should not be surprised if Smer won the next election. Already in this year’s campaign, the party showed that it is moving towards tougher conservatism, which is now popular in Slovakia.