The World From Berlin Fico's Huge Majority in Slovakia Vote is 'Dangerous'
German media commentators have their doubts about left-wing populist Robert Fico, who won Sunday's general election in Slovakia with an overwhelming majority, giving him the same degree of power as his controversial Hungarian counterpart Viktor Orban. Editorialists warn Fico may undo reforms that have made Slovakia a success story.
Slovakia's center-left leader Robert Fico scored a landslide election victory over the weekend with his Smer party. The former lawyer swept the conservative SDKU party of Foreign Minister Mikulas Dzurinda from power in the early election, called after the cabinet fell apart in a row over the euro rescue fund last October after just 15 months in office. It has been acting in a caretoker role since then.
Fico, who was prime minister from 2006 until 2010, pledged to uphold the outgoing government's commitment to cut Slovakia's budget deficit and support efforts to strengthen the euro zone. Slovakia's European Union partners were angry at Slovakia's refusal to contribute to the first bailout of Greece and the government's delay of plans to strengthen the euro bailout fund for troubled countries.
"The European Union can lean on Smer because we realize that Slovakia, as a small country living in Europe and wanting to live in Europe ... desires to maintain the euro zone and the euro as a strong European currency," Fico said at his party headquarters.
Final, unofficial results showed Smer took 44.4 percent of the vote on Saturday, giving it 83 of parliament's 150 seats. Damaged by allegations of graft, Dzurinda's party won just 6.1 percent, less than half of what it garnered in 2010.
The size of the victory has led to comparisons with the sweeping win by Hungary's center-right Fidesz party of Viktor Orban in 2010. Fico and Orban, though at opposite ends of the political spectrum, are both seen as populists prone to nationalist rhetoric, and both have harangued the press and passed controversial media laws, as well as criticizing foreign-owned companies operating in their countries.
Fico has vowed to raise taxes on the rich, doubling a tax on bank deposits to 0.7 percent, raising corporate tax to 22 percent from 19 percent, and raising income tax for those earning over 33,000 ($43,200) per year. He has also criticized reforms by the previous government that made it easier to hire and fire workers.
German media commentators are skeptical about Fico, and are worried that his huge majority could tempt him to take a similar path as Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, whose policies have drawn widespread condemnation in Europe.
The left-wing Die Tageszeitung writes:
"The fact that Fico won the election isn't dangerous. What is dangerous is that Fico won the election with such an overwhelming majority. After Hungary, Slovakia is now the second central European country with a strong single-party government. In Hungary as in Slovakia, voters are being driven en masse into the arms of populists like Orban and Fico by anger at what Vaclav Havel once described as 'mafia capitalism.' That refers to the cronyism among a small clique of politicians and businessmen who systematically undermine the state, or rather sell it out. What remains is the worry that Fico -- like Orban -- will exploit this anger in order to pacify the people with populist slogans and nationalist rhetoric aimed at profiting from that very 'mafia capitalism' himself."
The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:
"Robert Fico is regarded as a populist, and that's a fitting description. For four years, from 2006 until 2010, the former communist ran Slovakia together with the former autocrat Vladimir Meciar and the vulgar Jan Slota, the head of the extreme right-wing National Party. Europe's Social Democrats shunned Fico because of this objectionable coalition. Slovaks remember his previous term in office for a series of scandals involving ministerial resignations as well as for his policy of confrontation with neighboring Hungary, which itself was no less combative."
The newspaper writes that Fico is likely to carry on the economic reforms of the previous conservative government. "And unlike in his first term of office, he will stick to budget discipline this time. Now that he has a full majority of his own, he can show what else he regards as Social Democrat policy. So far, that didn't include an effective fight against corruption, an effective judicial reform or transparency in the awarding of public contracts. So he doesn't deserve any advance praise."
The conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:
"It was a fatal error to combine the parliamentary vote on Slovakia's participation in the euro stability fund with a vote of confidence and thereby to trigger a new election. Fico's election victory may not lead to a fresh downturn in Slovak-Hungarian relations because he doesn't need that now. But he can calmly reverse all the reforms that have turned Slovakia into one of the most economically successful post-Communist states in recent years -- and all thanks to the greed of the politicians who pushed these reforms through."
-- David Crossland