Minority dimension of the 2019 European Parliament election in Slovakiaicelds
Low turnout as Slovakia’s specialty
Since its EU accession in 2004, Slovakia persistently demonstrates the lowest voter turnout in the European Parliament elections. In 2004, only 16.96 percent of the voters came to ballot stations, in 2009 – 19.64 percent, and in 2014 – 13.05 percent. The latter figure is the lowest ever turnout in EU history. The turnout in the 2019 European Parliament election in Slovakia just confirmed this trend. This time only 22.74 percent of the voters came to the ballot stations.
Political commentators explain the low interest of the Slovak citizens in the EU matters by a combination of factors. It includes the alienation between Brussels and domestic realities, the alleged lack of transparency and estrangement of the Slovak MEPs from their voters’ needs.
Another wave of criticism is targeted towards political parties. They rather prefer to focus on the candidates’ role in a political party and not on their motivation or real political interest. In this sense, an MEP mandate is seen in Slovakia’s political culture as a reward for politicians who cannot effectively serve their party’s domestic needs. Thus, they are placed on a party’s list in the European Parliament elections and sent to Strasbourg and Brussels.
2019 European Parliament election and minorities
In total, there were 31 political parties running for the European Parliament election in Slovakia. Four of them could be identified as minority parties: the Party of the Hungarian Community (MKP-SMK, Magyar Közösség Pártja / Strana maďarskej komunity, previously known as the Party of the Hungarian Coalition (Magyar Koalíció Pártja / Strana maďarskej koalície), the Hungarian Christian Democratic Alliance (Magyar Kereszténydemokrata Szövetség / Maďarská kresťanskodemokratická aliancia), the Romani Coalition Party (Strana rómskej koalície), and the Most-Híd, which claims to represent the interests of several ethnic minorities living in Slovakia. At the same time, the presence of the candidates of minority background was not limited to these parties.
The most profound case is related to the political party called Ordinary People and Independent Personalities (OĽaNO, Obyčajní Ľudia a nezávislé osobnosti). Its leader, Igor Matovič, gave up his candidacy for an MEP seat in favor of Peter Pollák, his fellow party member of Roma background. Matovič explained this decision as an anti–racist and anti-fascist gesture, pointing on the threat of rising popularity of the extreme ring-wing Kotleba – People’s Party Our Slovakia (ĽSNS, Kotleba – Ľudová strana Naše Slovensko). Alfonz Kaliaš, the one and only candidate of the Romani Coalition Party also withdrew in favor of Pollák’s candidacy.
In its list, the Most-Híd had candidates of backgrounds other than Hungarian and Slovak. This included Richard Šarközi of Roma origin and Michal Goriščák of Ruthenian ethnicity.
Election results: the first Romani MEP from Slovakia
This European Parliament election was important for the Slovak political system. It was the coalition of the two newly-established pro-European liberal parties TOGETHER – Civic_Democracy (SPOLU, SPOLU – občianska demokracia) and Progressive Slovakia (Progesívne Slovensko) which won the election with 20.11 percent of the votes and four MEP seats.
The ruling party Direction–Social Democracy (Smer-SD, Smer–sociálna demokracia) came second. It received 15.72 percent of the votes and got three MEP mandates. This result was rather alarming for the party which in every election since 2012 received at least 24.09 percent of the votes. The nationalist ĽSNS finished third with 12.07 percent and two MEPs. With low turnout, it managed to get a higher percentage of the votes in comparison with the 2016 parliamentary election (8.04 percent) and the 2019 presidential election in Slovakia when its Marian Kotleba was supported by 10.39 percent of the voters. Thus, its result at the 2019 European election is just another confirmation of the rising threat of right-wing populism in Central Europe. The Christian Democratic Movement (Kresťanskodemokratické hnutie) and the Freedom and Solidarity (Sloboda a Solidarita) secured two MEP mandates each with being supported by 9.69 and 9.62 percent of the voters respectively.
The OĽANO got 5.25 percent of the votes which was enough for Peter Pollák to claim his MEP seat. Thus, he became the first Slovak MEP of Romani background. In 2012, Pollák became the first Romani member of the Slovak Parliament and until 2016 he worked as Plenipotentiary of the Government of the Slovak Republic for Roma Communities. In the view of the OĽANO leadership, his presence in the European Parliament will be beneficial not only for Slovakia’s Roma community but also for the entire country. The OĽANO party specifically emphasizes two aspects with this regard. First, Pollák’s election demonstrates that Slovakia has political forces capable to counterbalance the success of the radical nationalist ĽSNS. Second, Pollák’s success is generally seen as a positive example for children from the Roma neighborhoods of how they can change their lives.
Failure of ethnic Hungarian parties
Each of the previous European Parliament elections in Slovakia brought at least two MEP seats to ethnic Hungarian parties. Following the 2004 and 2009 elections, Slovakia’s Hungarians were represented by two MEPs from the MKP-SMK. As a result of the 2014 election, two “Hungarian” mandates were distributed between the MKP-SMK and the Most-Híd. In the European Parliament, both Pál Csáky from MKP-SMK and József Nagy from the Most-Híd were affiliated with the European People’s Party group.
In 2019, both ethnic Hungarian MEPs from Slovakia sought re-election. However, the election results for them and their parties were disappointing. The MKP-SMK got 4.96 percent and narrowly missed the electoral threshold, whereas the Most-Híd enjoyed historically lowest level of public support with just 2.59 percent of the votes.
This failure can be explained by a number of factors. As for the Most-Híd, some commentators claim that its presence in the ruling coalition with the Smer-SD and the nationalist Slovak National Party (Slovenská národná strana) significantly damaged the party’s reputation.
Moreover, in spring 2019 there was a severe dispute on the amendment to the State Symbols Act which significantly limited the singing of the national anthem of another state in the territory of Slovakia. According to the critics of this law, the authorities could easily abuse their powers and target it against the Hungarian minority. This situation was immediately taken up by the MKP-SMK which initiated protests against this law in front of the Parliament of Slovakia. Whereas the MKP-SMK had a clear stance on this matter, the Most-Híd rather argued about the vagueness of this law. Oddly enough, the Most-Híd MPs voted for the said amendment. Beyond any doubts, these developments had a negative and polarizing effect on the Hungarian minority.
As for the election results, the Most-Híd was relatively successful in the north-eastern regions of Slovakia. There, the party was to a large extent backed by the ethnic Ruthenian electorate. This success is also attributed to the fact that some of the Most-Híd key figures come from this region.
The MKP-SMK case is different. Its critics claim that the party is too conservative, and its position is heavily dominated by a protectionist approach. This strategy keeps a considerable part of Slovakia’s Hungarian community from supporting the MKP-SMK. In fact, the party’s affiliation and identification with Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz program might effectively appeal to many voters in the southern regions of Slovakia who are also exposed to the Hungarian media. However, as many commentators point out, the party’s agenda lacks concrete issues currently faced by Slovakia’s Hungarian community.
The results of the European Parliamentary election demonstrate a gradual process of political change in Slovakia. On the one hand, one can observe the downfall of the ruling Smer-SD, as its image was stigmatized by several corruption scandals. On the other hand, the success of the new anti-establishment pro-European parties SPOLU and Progressive Slovakia was rooted in Slovakia’s developments in the recent years, including the murder of the investigative journalist Ján Kuciak and the said corruption scandals at the top governmental level. These two parties can also be seen as an effective counterbalance to the current right-wing populist tendencies in the country represented by the ĽSNS. Moreover, this trend has recently been confirmed by the election of Zuzana Čaputová, known for her pro-European and liberal agenda, as President of the Slovak Republic.
In comparison with countries of the Visegrád Group, Slovak voters sent a clear pro-European message by their choice of the new MEPs. Slovakia clearly differs from its V4 partners in this sense.