Coalition Governments and Development of the Party System in Slovakia

by Marcel Martinkovič (Author)
Monographs 126 Pages
Series: Spectrum Slovakia, Volume 35

Table Of Content

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Parliamentary Elections in Slovakia (1990 – 2016)
  • Some Remarks on the Importance of Research into Electoral and Party Systems
  • Introduction
  • Parliamentary Elections in 1990
  • Parliamentary Elections in 1992
  • Early Parliamentary Elections in 1994
  • Parliamentary Elections in 1998
  • Parliamentary Elections in 2002
  • Early Parliamentary Elections in 2006
  • Parliamentary Elections in 2010
  • Early Parliamentary Elections in 2012
  • Parliamentary Elections in 2016
  • Conclusion
  • Charts and Tables
  • List of Abbreviations
  • References
  • Register
  • Summary
  • About Author
  • Contents

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Some Remarks on the Importance of Research into Electoral and Party Systems

The aim of this study is to analyze the development of the party system in Slovakia from the establishment of the independent Slovak Republic to the regular parliamentary elections on March 5, 2016. The reason for limiting this research to the above time segment is the fact that our goal was to provide an analysis of the party system in Slovakia and its development with the use of data on political programs of the respective parties, which were published within the framework of the RILE index (Right–left position), an international database of the right-to-left leaning of political parties.1 This information, which will be used to define the orientation of the programs and leanings of the political parties to the right or to the left in the Slovak party system, can be found in the database published by Social Science Research Center Berlin.2 The analysis of the theses verbalized in the programmatic documents of the political parties ranges from the first free elections after the change of the regime in the former Czechoslovakia (Slovak National Council-SNR) in 1990 to the parliamentary elections in 2016. Our research focus is mainly on the positional and programmatic development of the parties in the right-left political continuum, characterization of the developmental stages of the party system, and analysis of the programmatic homogeneity or heterogeneity of the coalition governments. We will use the following hypothesis in our study: Reduction of programmatic (ideological) differences of the parliamentary parties (on the RILE scale) and their positioning in the center of the political spectrum creates space for antipolitical, antiestablishment, and antisystemic or radical parties in the party system.

The present publication aims to characterize the basic attributes of the relationship between the electoral and party system and its development. This area of political science is of critical importance to assess the trends in the development of political parties and party systems in the individual countries. A comprehensive evaluation of the development of the party system requires several other factors to be considered that limit the creation of political representation in the individual political systems. When defining these, the political research has been mainly focused on the impact of electoral laws on the creation of political representation. ←9 | 10→The important works in this area mainly include the works of G. Almond, M. Duverger, J. Blondel, G. Sartori, R. Dahl, S. Rokkan, R. Rose, R. Taageper, A. Lijphart, R. Katz, D. Rae, P. Mair, and others. In our research, we will apply the criteria used by Giovanni Sartori in his works Parties and Party Systems 3 and Comparative Constitutional Engineering. An Inquiry into Structures, Incentives and Outcomes4. When defining the attributes that limit the development of the party system, Sartori particularly highlights the structured nature of the party system, voter distribution, and ideological polarization between the relevant parties. The relevance of the parties is characterized by their coalition or blackmailing potential. When categorizing a particular party system according to Sartori’s typology, even the other said criteria should be taken into account in addition to the abundance of relevant parties. Other important elements that can affect the overall nature of the party system and its proportionality in the proportional representation systems include the number and size of electoral districts, the threshold value or quorum, list of candidates (fixed, bound, and free), and also the use of electoral quotas (Hare, Droop quota, Hagenbach-Bischoff method, Hare-Niemeyer method, etc.) or divisor (D’Hondt, Sainte-Lagüe, Imperiali, etc.). Due to the nature of the electoral system in Slovakia, which is characterized by a low threshold for entry into the parliament (5% threshold for a political party), and by a single electoral district since 1998, the distorting effect of the method to redistribute the mandates is minimum. On the other hand, the formation of a proportional party system is accompanied by the development toward an unstructured party system. The structural nature of the party system in Slovakia is not final because a large segment of voters make their decisions based on sympathy for the leader and not according to the program priorities of the relevant party or its abstract image (Sartori, 2001: 49). Based on the research into the relationship and impact of electoral laws on the nature of the party system, Sartori has defined four basic laws (Sartori, 2001: 59–60), which specify the variability of relations between the electoral and party system much more accurately than Duverger’s rules defining the relation between the election type and the number of parties (Duverger, 2016: 231–280).5 The third and fourth Sartori’s laws relate to the proportional representation systems. The third law refers to ←10 | 11→the situation where there exists a systemic structure in the party system, which has a reductive effect on the number of parties in the Parliament. The reductive effect of the electoral system is also highlighted by its disproportionality. The development of Slovak electoral and party system since 1990 is most precisely characterized by Sartori’s fourth law. “In the absence of a systemic structure and an expectation of a clear (or almost clear) proportional representation, that is, equal (relatively equal) input costs for all parties, there can be as many parties as the quota allows” (Sartori, 2001: 60). Based on this statement, we may conclude that in the case of the political system in the Slovak Republic, the national political representation is created by the rules that lead to a sincere election. At the national parliament level, the Slovak electoral system affects the choice of a political party only minimally because the whole country is a single electoral district, and the criteria for limiting the entry into the Parliament are low (electoral deposit and the number of signatures to register a political party – at least 10 000, etc.).6 Therefore, in the parliamentary elections we do not see strategic choices, as is the case in the two-round majority system (The Fifth French Republic) or in the relative majority voting system (Great Britain). The proportional representation system tends to produce coalition governments, thus exerting a lower pressure on the voter and greater pressure on the political representation. The political skills of the representation determine the potential for a stable and efficient inter-party cooperation at the parliamentary and executive level. This is, however, limited by several factors, ranging from the nature and number of cleavage lines, to voter volatility, and to the functioning of the party structures. Even for this reason, the development of the Slovak party system shows a tendency toward the fragmentation of the party spectrum. This factor, along with the lack of structure in the party system, which often generates parties with outstanding personalities rather than programmatic solutions, low level of civic awareness of the majority population and “systemic polarization” (Sartori, 2001: 56), is the biggest problem of the party system after 30 years of democratic consolidation.

The unfinished consolidation of the party system in the Slovak Republic after 1993 is coupled with fluctuations in voter volatility. Because the above variables determined the formation of political representation and had an impact on the formation of political parties and their activities and cooperation within the government coalitions, we will characterize the ←11 | 12→party development using the basic categories of party systems, such as bipartisanship, moderate pluralism, and polarized pluralism. We consider the analysis of the various development stages of a party system to be an important factor that can help us understand the development at the level of executive representation and formation of coalition governments, which are a natural component – and a consequence – of the proportional representation systems.

Our methodological approach to examine the development of the party system includes a combination of descriptive, empirical, and normative approaches. This functional approach (Sartori, 1993, 20) is based on the need for a combination of qualified approaches to the definition of selected political aspects (effects of the electoral system on the voter, polarization of the party system, ideological orientation of the party program, degree of confrontation in political competition, structured nature of the party system, concentration of power around the party leader, centralization of party structures, etc.) and quantification of selected data (citizen participation rate in elections, proportional representation of political parties in the government based on the mandates, operationalization of the political programs, programmatic heterogeneity and homogeneity of the coalitions, etc.). Only a combination of these approaches can make room for a more comprehensive understanding of the political development in Slovakia and its basic attributes.

Our analysis of the development of the Slovak party system only covers the parliamentary political parties.


In order to join the National Council of the Slovak Republic, the parties had to exceed the 3% threshold in the first free elections after 1989. With the adoption of Act no. 104/1992 Coll., this parliamentary threshold increased to 5%. The reason was the unification of the electoral threshold throughout the country because this level was also used in the Federal Parliament and the Czech National Council. At the same time, the conditions for the preelection coalitions were defined in 1992. The coalition the threshold was set to 7% composed of two or three parties. For the coalitions composed of four or more parties, the threshold was set to 10%. This adjustment meant an increase in the reductive effect of the proportional electoral system, which ←12 | 13→also triggered a slump in valid electoral votes.7 Since the establishment of the democratic order in 1990, the Slovak political scene is the characteristic of predominant party in the party system. However, only the government of Direction – Social Democracy (SMER-SD) in the years 2012–2016 fully meets the Sartori’s criterion for a system with a predominant party, as this party was able to govern without any coalition partners and with the parliamentary majority (Sartori, 2005: 212). In the previous period, this predominant position in the Slovak party system was almost attained by Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS). This party ruled the country as a separate entity with the support of Slovak National Party (SNS) from June 24, 1992, to October 11, 1992, when SNS officially confirmed its entry into the ruling coalition. Otherwise, HZDS played an important role in the coalition government of Vladimír Mečiar from December 13, 1994, to October 30, 1998, and in the first government of Robert Fico from July 4, 2006, to July 10, 2010. The outlined development of the party system shows a tendency of voters to favor a single party, usually with a strong charismatic or a populist leader whose rhetoric, to a varying degree, advocates the principle of state etatism. From 1992 to 1998, this role in the system of political parties was played by V. Mečiar’s HZDS, and People’s Party – Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (ĽS-HZDS since 2003). After the parliamentary elections in 1998, HZDS was dislodged by (hitherto dominant body in governments from 1992 to 1998) the opposition project titled Slovak Democratic Coalition (SDK) with Mikuláš Dzurinda as its leader. This project integrated the opposition parties; however, it has never become a longterm and preferred political body due to its transformative decisions in the socio-economic area. De facto, it was not an ideologically unified political party with clear party structures. The relevance of SDK and its participation in Mikuláš Dzurinda’s government in the period October 30, 1998–October 16, 2002, was based on the inter-party cooperation between the then opposition parties. A more intensive cooperation started in 1996 by forming the so-called preelection Blue Coalition. The formal integration of the opposition parties during the government of Vladimír Mečiar was completed ←13 | 14→in 1998 under the pressure of ad hoc changes in the electoral law. The importance of integrating the opposition parties was also supported by the coalition potential of the new parties, Party of Civic Understanding (SOP) in 1998 and Alliance of the New Citizen (ANO) in 2002, when the Mečiar’s HZDS was still able to win more electoral votes but its coalition potential lowered. This fact was evident in the high number of electoral votes for HZDS in the 1992, 1994, 1998, and 2002 parliamentary elections,8 but also by a gradual loss of coalition partners to create a majority government. An important change in the party system occurred after the collapse of the antimečiar project with the wide preelection coalition led by SDK. It resulted in the formation of a standalone political party – Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) – in 2000. This party, after a merger with the Democratic Party (DS) in 2006, formed SDKÚ-DS as a political party. This political body became the most influential party in the right based on the number of electoral votes in the period 2002–2010. However, it never had the level of voter support of the centrist HZDS in the 1990s and on the verge of the millennium. Nevertheless, the coalition potential of SDK (and later SDKÚ) led by Mikuláš Dzurinda was sufficient enough to create a coalition government in 1998–2002 and 2002–2006. The qualitative change toward the consolidation of the Slovak party system took place in the period 2002–2004 on the left side of the spectrum. After the disintegration of the left (in the period 1994–2003), this development stage of the political system was the characteristic of the integration of small left-wing parties into SMER. SMER subsequently replaced HZDS as a party and it could effectively mobilize the largest number of voters. In 2005, it changed its name to Direction – SMER-SD and Robert Fico became its head. SMER-SD won the largest number of votes in the parliamentary elections in 2006 (671,185 votes – 29.14%), 2010 (880,111 votes – 34.79%), 2012 and 2016. In the early elections in 2012, it won 1,134,280 electoral votes, which equates to 44.41% of the total number of voters. Based on such voter support, SMER-SD was able to create a majority government just by itself. It also won the 2016 elections. In the last parliamentary elections, it won 737,481 votes, that is, -28.28%, and defended the position of the strongest coalition party in the minimum winning coalition SMER-SD, SNS, and Most-Híd.

These circumstances are a mirror to the development of the party system in the Slovak Republic, which was mothballed by the amendment of the electoral law for parliamentary elections, which was passed by ←14 | 15→ Mečiar’s government (HZDS, SNS, and Workers’ Association of Slovakia (ZRS)) before the 1998 elections. The then government of V. Mečiar (HZDS, SNS, and ZRS)9 passed an amendment of the electoral law to favor their position against the then opposition parties. This legislative change has established the criteria, which distorted the development of the Slovak party system and negatively limited it to this day. Among others, we can mention the 5% intracoalition clause for all parties in the preelection coalition, and the introduction of a single nation-wide list of candidates per political party. The whole country has become one single electoral district whereas the original parliamentary elections in Slovakia were held in four electoral districts. This major change led to a greater degree of centralization of the parties, which created negative conditions for their regional and local structures. The negative consequences and the oligarchic nature of the parties are still visible in the non-transparent links to the economic interest groups, which started during the period of uncontrolled privatization of state property in the 1990s and at the beginning of the millennium. Such a harsh interference into the electoral law created space for particular parties with a strong or populist charismatic leader at the expense of the formation of an abstract image of ideologically and programmatically profiled parties. Mečiar’s modification of the electoral law for the parliamentary elections, whose aim was to marginalize the opposition and their preelection cooperation, negatively affected the development of the party system and the consolidation of political parties in the Slovak Republic. It hindered the creation of a programmatically structured party system, in which the agenda, ideological anchoring, and well-developed organizational structures are key for their consolidation, to the detriment of the parties with notable charismatic personalities (Sartori, 2001: 49–50). Despite the criticism of the opposition leaders – M. Dzurinda, J. Čarnogurský, E. Kukan, J. Langoš, and others – their parties and representatives failed to eliminate the distorting elements in the electoral law when they won the majority vote in the 1998 parliamentary elections. For this reason, the existence of a single electoral district in the parliamentary elections limits the development of the party structures at the local and regional level.10 Since ←15 | 16→1998, the parties have not been encouraged to systematically develop their activities at the local level because all they need to function in Parliament is a narrow range of party elites and district or regional structures. This results in a credibility crisis of the parties, which, coupled with increased corruption in public life after 2016, was also manifested by the establishment of a right-wing extremist and latently antisystemic party Kotleba – People’s Party Our Slovakia, Kotleba -Ľudová strana naše Slovensko (K–ĽS NS) in the Parliament. The current centralization of partisan politics in Slovakia is paradoxically affected by the fact that a number of parties, which clearly defined themselves against the originally established incumbents, have an even smaller member base and leadership than the original parties (e.g., Freedom and Solidarity – SaS; Ordinary People and Independent Personalities – OĽaNO; Network – Sieť; We Are Family – Boris Kollár – Sme rodina – Boris Kollár; Kotleba – People’s Party Our Slovakia, etc.).11 This would be a natural phenomenon in the newly established parties, but some of the aforementioned parties have been already operating on a parliamentary level for more than one term (the liberal SaS since 2009 and the conservative, antipolitical, and antiestablishment movement OĽaNO since 2011), and yet, they made no significant progress in the development of their regional and local party structures. One of the risks associated with the parties represented on the national level mainly through the work of a single leader and a small group of his/her co-workers is that they quickly turn into oligarchic structures. 12 At the same time, this minimizes the impact of lower and local levels of the party structure on the internal development of democratic environment. The phenomenon of the so-called primaries, or inner referendums on key questions of partisan orientation ←16 | 17→and governmental cooperation, etc., is virtually absent in the Slovak party system. This low rate of participation and responsibility of the local and regional structures in the overall activities of the political entities is subsequently reflected in the reduction of functionality of the parties as key elements in an effective functioning of the democratic system. When combined with the reduction of ideological differences between the parties, this may create space for extremists, particularly in non-voters and disgruntled voters of the incumbent parties.

If the established parties are unable to perform the basic functions such as settling the disputes between different social groups, formulating a comprehensive political program, generating a credible political leadership, socializing the citizens, facilitating communication between the citizens and the state, ensuring the organization of government and its control in the context of public interests, the overall functioning of the institution and the legitimacy of representative democracy will diminish. If this function cannot be met by the established parties, it can be assumed by the newly emerging entities, which are trying to win over the established parties and articulate themselves in terms of relations and ideology. This radicalization of political life and objectives is then reflected in their activities and ability to aggregate the portion of public support of those citizens who no longer trust the democratic institutions. The more isolated the parties, the stronger their extremist and populist attitudes. In such an environment, the negative development and isolation of the narrow partisan presidencies in the established and pro-democracy parties is getting even stronger, and allows the parties to connect with coercive interest groups more freely and without substantial control of the member base. The legitimacy of incumbent pro-democracy parties is systematically hampered by the unwillingness of the leaders to bear political responsibility for the alleged corrupt behavior of their representatives. One of the reasons why this situation occurs across all the established political parties in Slovakia (People’s Party – Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (ĽS-HZDS), SNS, KDH,13 SDKÚ-DS, SMER-SD, Most-Híd, SaS, etc.), which had executive responsibility, is the quantitatively narrow leadership of these parties. The second reason is the reluctance of the professionally qualified people to be engaged in partisan politics, fueled by a general distrust toward politics. At the level of national political life, this results in the emergence of crony parties, which give rise to the so-called crony parliamentarism (Klíma, 2015: 206). Apart from numerous instances of corruption, this trend is also ←17 | 18→characterized by a higher level of instability in the exercise of power. The ensuing instability of the structures of political parties has an effect on the constant partisan divisions and emergence of new bodies and actors that can make it through the elections. For example, the new leftist SOP in 1998; the liberal Alliance of New Citizens (ANO) and the SMER in 2002; the civil-liberal Most-Híd and liberal SaS in 2010; OĽaNO in 2012; and the right-wing extremist K–ĽS NS, the movement We Are Family – Boris Kollár, and the rightist Network in 2016. This negative decomposition of the party system in Slovakia goes hand in hand with the increased partisan unreliability in public opinion polls. The increased polarization of relations between the parties (which not always corresponds with ideological polarization) runs in parallel with such developments not only in Slovakia, but also in the neighboring countries of the Visegrad Group (V4). This development is often accompanied by the rise of antisystemic and antipolitical or antiestablishment parties (Schedler, 2002: 36–50) on the national level and proliferation of alienating political culture (Klicperová-Baker, Feierabend, et al., 2007: 21). A significant impact on the Slovak party system (in the light of party transformation in the Czech Republic) was made by the all-European tendency of the past decade, in particular, right-wing populism, anti-immigrant rhetoric, manipulation with the notion of Euroskepticism (Haydanka, 2018: 189).14 This fact accounts for the strengthening of the party institute of antisystem parties, accompanied by a noticeable increase in populism in the party rhetoric of the leading political actors.

This publication will also attempt to answer the question to what degree the coalition governments that have emerged since the first free elections in 1990 and formed the governing majority in the SNR and NR SR (after the inception of the independent Slovak Republic) up until the elections in 2016 were programmatically homogeneous or heterogeneous. These conclusions are based on the positional value of the political program of each party on the RILE scale. In the final assessment of the nature of individual coalitions, we will also verify the relevance of the hitherto conclusions published in this area. We will focus on verifying the following hypothesis: Is there a correlation between the increasingly blurred programmatic differences between the parliamentary parties and the rise of extremist and antisystemic parties? Our assumption is that the blurring of ideological differences between the parliamentary parties in Slovakia provides ground for the establishment of antisystemic parties in the outer parts of the political spectrum. The antisystemic nature, extremist tendencies, ←18 | 19→and extremist bodies will be evaluated with M. Kubát’s typology who followed up on the research of antisystemic opposition by G. Sartori and G. Capoccia. In the analysis, he proposed two basic evaluation criteria: The relational variable, which demonstrates the marginal position or isolation of the party vis-a-vis the position of other parties, and the ideological variable, which is manifested by the (de)legitimization of the democratic establishment and representative democracy. At its core, the antisystemic parties have always promoted the delegitimization of democratic institutions, and fostered antidemocratic values and ideology (Kubát, 2010: 83–85), cf. (Sartori, 2005: 137). In the analysis of the party system and its development, we will also highlight the emergence of antipolitical and antiestablishment parties that accept the framework of democratic political competition but systematically challenge the ability of the established parties to address major social problems.

Biographical notes

Marcel Martinkovič (Author)

Marcel Martinkovič specializes in the subject of History of Political Thought, comparing political systems and transformation processes.


Title: Coalition Governments and Development of the Party System in Slovakia