Exit polls show the Ordinary People anti-corruption movement of millionaire Igor Matovic is on course for victory in Slovakia’s first parliamentary elections since the country was rocked by the murder of a young investigative journalist.
The polls forecast that Ordinary People — whose slogan is “Let’s beat the mafia together” — would win around 25 per cent of the vote, far ahead of expectations, and enough for it to form a coalition with a handful of smaller centre-right and liberal parties.
Smer, the leftwing populist party that has ruled Slovakia for 12 of the past 14 years, was on course for a thumping defeat, with the exit polls predicting that it would take around 14 per cent, barely half of what it won four years ago.
“It’s a very big surprise,” said Olga Gyafarsova, senior research fellow at the Institute for Public Affairs in Bratislava. “In the last 4-5 weeks it has been clear that Matovic is on the rise — but not many people expected him to be over 20 per cent, or the biggest party.”
Supporters and activists in a sports hall in Trnava where Mr Matovic held his election night party — who were tested for high temperatures before being allowed in, due to concerns over coronavirus — erupted into rapturous cheers and applause as the exit poll was announced, before breaking into chants of “Igor, Igor.”
Mr Matovic is an unconventional politician who brands himself as socially conservative and economically liberal, and once owned a regional newspaper business.
“My goal during the next four years is to convince the voters of the current [Smer-led] coalition, that we are the better choice,” he said, putting his movement’s success down to his drive to re-engage disaffected Slovaks.
“In this campaign we took the more difficult path. We fought for non-voters. We woke the sleeping dragon,” he said.
If confirmed, Mr Matovic’s victory and Smer’s defeat would be the latest indication of how the aftershocks from the brutal murder in 2018 of Jan Kuciak and his fiancée, Martina Kusnirova, continue to upend Slovak politics.
The contract-killing triggered the biggest street protests in Slovakia’s independent history, and forced Smer’s veteran leader, Robert Fico, to step down as prime minister. Last year, they helped the previously unknown liberal anti-corruption activist Zuzana Caputova to storm to victory in presidential elections.
Their impact has also been felt during this campaign, with a string of lurid leaks from the investigation into the murders revealing alleged links between politicians, justice officials and businessmen.
In a measure of the level of popular frustration with Slovakia’s political elite, most parties, including the incumbents Smer, ran on a platform of change.
Many analysts expected that the popular anger would translate into a strong performance for the extreme right L’SNS party of Marian Kotleba, who has branded Roma “gypsy parasites” and romanticised the fascist Slovak state of 1939-1945.
The party had polled as high as second, but the exit poll forecast that it would win just 7-8 per cent, and Ms Gyarfasova said that L’SNS appeared to have lost voters to Ordinary People. “Those people who wanted to protest, but were not connected to neo-Nazi ideology seem to have voted for Matovic,” she said.
Mr Matovic now faces the challenge of forming a coalition government, which will require at least three other groups.
Possible partners include the liberal alliance Progressive Slovakia/Together, which was forecast to win around 9 per cent; the liberal group SaS; the centre-right party of former president Andrej Kiska, For the People; the populist We are Family party of Boris Kollar; and the Christian Democrats.