Slovaks yesterday voted in a general election, with the governing populists fighting for survival amid outrage over the 2018 gangland-style murder of a journalist whose stories exposed high-level corruption plaguing the eurozone country.
Allegedly a hit ordered by a businessman with connections to politicians, the killing of Jan Kuciak, which also took the life of his fiancee, Martina Kusnirova, has become a lightning rod for public outrage at graft in public life.
Hit hard by the fallout of the murder, most surveys suggested that former Slovak prime minister Robert Fico’s governing populist-left Smer-Social Democracy (Smer-SD) party was running neck-and-neck with OLaNO, a surging center-right opposition party focused on rooting out corruption.
OLaNO even outpaced Smer-SD by 3.5 percent in a last-minute AKO/Focus agency opinion survey published this week in the neighboring Czech Republic to bypass a pre-election polling ban in Slovakia.
“Change is much needed here,” said Daniela Jonasova, a 35-year-old office clerk, who told reporters that she voted for OLaNO at a Bratislava polling station shortly after it opened.
“I like the way [OLaNO leader Igor] Matovic points out what is wrong in Slovakia — I believe he’ll bring a real change,” she added, referring to OLaNO’s anti-graft focus.
“The election is primarily about the desire for decency in politics,” Bratislava-based political analyst Radoslav Stefancik said.
“Instead of protesting against the ruling Smer-SD party on the streets, people will do so in polling stations,” Stefancik said.
The double murder triggered the largest anti-government protests since communist times and toppled Fico as prime minister, with his party colleague Peter Pellegrini taking over the reins.
It also propelled Slovak President Zuzana Caputova, a liberal lawyer and anti-graft advocate, out of nowhere to win last year’s presidential race in the country of 5.4 million people.
The double murder “has reconfigured the entire political scene, as new liberal-democratic parties emerged and immediately gained support, political analyst Grigorij Meseznikov said.
“The most likely scenario is the creation of a center-right pro-democracy oriented government coalition of six or even seven parties,” he added.
Having vowed to immediately push through anti-corruption measures should he win office, OLaNO leader Matovic, a 46-year-old lawmaker, appeared to have galvanized voter outrage over the murders and the high-level corruption they exposed.
An eccentric self-made millionaire and former media boss, Matovic set up “Ordinary People and Independent Personalities — OLaNO” a decade ago.
Analysts suggested that the media savvy, but unpredictable politician could become prime minister if he manages to unify the splintered opposition.
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