Slovak Facebook Users May Bring an End to Fico Reign as Voters Seek Change

Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico’s government may fail to win a second term as new parties tap into disaffection with corruption and rising debt among the first generation of voters who never lived under communism.

The three ruling parties, including Fico’s Smer, may win 72 seats in the 150-member parliament, down from a majority as recently as March, a June 1-7 opinion poll shows. Five opposition parties that share a commitment to fiscal prudence would control the remaining seats and may be able to form a government, according to the poll by Bratislava-based Focus.

“This country needs new blood in politics since all of the old guys have been associated with scandals,” said Adam Marcan, 21, an ad agency art director in the capital who plans to vote for the 14-month-old Freedom and Solidarity Party. “A lot of public money is being wasted now, and without a change Slovakia could take the Greek route soon.”

Slovakia’s budget deficit may swell to 7.4 percent of gross domestic product this year, compared with a target of 5.5 percent, unless the new government takes “significant” steps to reduce the shortfall, according to a survey of economists released June 2 by the Club of Economic Analysts in Bratislava. The government plans to sell as much as 8 billion euros ($9.6 billion) of debt this year, the most since at least 2004.

Voting stations open at 7 a.m. tomorrow and close at 10 p.m.

‘Lying’

The election pits Fico’s desire to increase social spending against opposition pledges to reduce expenditures in the face of Europe’s debt crisis. A similar battle in the Czech Republic allowed three parties promising fiscal responsibility to garner a majority of seats in parliament during elections last month.

The government is “lying” about the state of the public finances, Richard Sulik, leader of Freedom and Solidarity, said in a June 7 interview. “We are on the way to Greece if this development continues.”

Sulik, a 42-year-old former entrepreneur who sold a chain of photocopy shops four years ago, is using non-traditional means to reach voters. While Fico has been delivering speeches, Sulik created a Facebook page where he has 4,150 “friends” and a fan club of almost 68,000. He appealed to younger voters by pledging to soften penalties for marijuana possession.

Waning Support

Smer dropped to 29.5 percent support in the latest Focus poll from 35.3 percent in May. The Slovak National Party and HZDS, Smer’s coalition partners, had 7.7 percent and 5 percent, respectively. Freedom and Solidarity Party was second with 12.4 percent, followed by SDKU with 12.1 percent, the Christian Democrats with 9.2, Most-Hid with 6.5 percent and the Hungarian Coalition with 5.2 percent. The survey of 1,006 people was conducted June 1-7.

A poll of 1,023 respondents between June 7 and June 10 by private company Polis, released today, also showed a drop in support for the ruling coalition, with HZDS failing to reach the 5 percent threshold needed to gain entrance to parliament.

Smer led with 29.1 percent, followed by SDKU with 15.9 percent, Freedom and Solidarity with 12.8 percent, KDH with 10.8 percent, Most-Hid with 7.1 percent, the Slovak National Party with 5.7 percent and SMK with 5 percent.

No margin of error was given in either poll.

Economy Plunges

A year ago, Fico ranked among the country’s most popular politicians in public opinion polls. During his rule, the east European nation of 5.4 million people adopted the euro and economic growth accelerated to 10.6 percent in 2007 as companies such as Seoul-based Kia Motors Corp. and Wolfsburg, Germany- based Volkswagen AG increased investment.

The global financial crisis stemmed the flow of money and Slovak exports ground to a halt. The economy shrank 4.7 percent last year, and the deficit swelled to 6.8 percent of GDP.

Slovakia slipped to 56th among 180 countries in the 2009 corruption perceptions index compiled by Berlin-based Transparency International. The country ranked 49th when Fico took power in 2006.

Andrej, a 60-year-old pensioner who declined to give his last name, said he plans to vote for Smer.

“Something has been done” by Fico’s government, he said. “More social spending, more money for children, and highways were built.”

‘Negative Social Impact’

Fico promises to reduce the budget deficit without raising income taxes because doing so would hurt the country’s competitiveness.

“Any upward change to the tax system would hurt the economy and have a negative social impact,” Fico said at an April 30 conference in Bratislava.

Some voters may have been put off by the nationalist tone of Fico and the Slovak Nationalist Party, said Peter Haulik, director of MVK, a Bratislava-based pollster.

Fico attacked the new government of Hungary’s decision to offer citizenship to anyone to ethnic Hungarians outside the country.

Hungary is “exporting its brown plague,” he said in an interview published June 4 by Paris-based Le Figaro, referring to Nazi collaborators who ruled the country during World War II. Anyone who applies for a Hungarian passport should be stripped of their Slovak citizenship, he said. About 10 percent of Slovakia’s population is ethnic Hungarian.

“The arrival of Freedom and Solidarity helped balance out the support between the opposition and the coalition,” Haulik said. “Freedom and Solidarity is the only opposition party that has been able to lure voters of Smer.”

Martin Madej, a 22-year-old student, said he planned to vote for Freedom and Solidarity. The party isn’t encumbered by the past, he said while sitting at a Bratislava cafe. “We definitely need a change.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Radoslav Tomek in Bratislava at rtomek@bloomberg.net.

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