In recent years, the Slovak political situation has been characterized by instability, polarization, corruption, and a resurgence of populist forces. The political scene has become more fragmented than ever before, and there is growing concern among the public about the decline of democracy in the country.
The political turbulence in Slovakia began five years ago with the brutal murder of investigative journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée. Since then, Slovakia has experienced four changes in prime ministers, a political crisis, and a growing shift in support towards populist movements. These developments have raised concerns in some quarters about whether Slovakia will follow the path of Hungary, which has been criticized for its authoritarian tendencies and erosion of democratic norms.
On September 30, early parliamentary elections were held, and the results have significantly reshaped Slovakia’s political landscape. Former Prime Minister Robert Fico and his Smer party emerged victorious in elections, securing 23% of the vote. They subsequently formed a coalition government with two smaller parties: the center-left Hlas party and the ultranationalist Slovak National Party.
Robert Fico previously held power from 2006 to 2010 and from 2012 to 2018. However, in 2018 Fico and his entire cabinet were forced to resign following the brutal murder of Ján Kuciak and his fiancée. Kuciak was an investigative journalist, looking into corruption involving Fico’s government, EU subsidies, and the Italian mafia. The murders of Kuciak and his fiancée sparked massive protests across Slovakia, the largest demonstrations since 1989.
Hope for change appeared in 2019 with the election of Zuzana Čaputová as president and in 2020, when parliamentary elections resulted in the victory of OL’aNO (Ordinary People and Independent Personalities). This marked the defeat of Fico’s Smer party and the formation of a center-right coalition government that pledged to fight corruption. However, in 2021, Slovakia faced a political crisis when Prime Minister Igor Matovič resigned in April and a vote of no confidence in the government was passed in December.
After Smer lost the election in 2020, it experienced internal division and its popularity declined. Two years later, Fico and former Minister of the Interior Robert Kaliňák were accused of establishing a “criminal organization” while in office to influence the state institutions. In the same year, seeking to regain power, Fico launched a comeback campaign that was marked by a focus on populist rhetoric, anti-establishment sentiment, and a promise of stability and order for Slovakia. Misinformation also played a significant role in Fico’s victory. Disinformation has become deeply ingrained in Slovakia’s political landscape, with the country long targeted by disinformation campaigns originating from Russia. Smer effectively employed a strategy of disseminating hoaxes, half-truths, and misinformation to fuel its campaign. Amidst the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, Fico made controversial campaign promises, vowing not to send Slovakian aid to Ukraine and even threatening to veto Ukraine’s NATO membership application.
The newly elected government is attempting to make significant domestic policy changes, as promised during their campaign. At the beginning of December, the Slovakian government approved a controversial proposal to amend the country’s criminal code in an expedited procedure without expert discussion. The proposed amendments would have far-reaching consequences, including abolishing investigators from the national criminal agency and the special prosecutor who deals with serious criminal cases and corruption, and reducing penalties for corruption offenses. President Zuzana Čaputová declared her intention to veto the proposal. The proposed changes, if implemented, would significantly weaken Slovakia’s anti-corruption framework, and raise concerns about the erosion of the rule of law in the country. These developments have alarmed other EU member states, highlighting the potential for Slovakia to follow a similar path to Hungary.
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