Slovak left wins election, vows to defend the euro
(BRATISLAVA) - Vowing to defend the euro and boost social welfare, Slovakia's leftist leader Robert Fico geared up Sunday to form a majority government a day after his landslide win ousted disgraced rivals.
President Ivan Gasparovic said he would nominate Fico for prime minister as official results showed his Smer-SD party scored 83 seats in the 150-member parliament.
The tally will crown the 47-year-old ex-communist as the first Slovak premier to command a sweeping single-party majority since the country's independence in 1993.
Saturday's early election was called when the centre-right government collapsed in October in a dispute over whether Slovakia should pay into a European bailout fund.
Insisting his government would be pro-European, Fico sought to reassure Brussels Sunday, while also pledging to boost social welfare amid an economic downturn sparked by the eurozone's debt crisis.
"We want the eurozone preserved and the euro as a strong European currency," said Fico, who ushered Slovakia into the eurozone in 2009 during his first stint as premier in 2006-2010.
Slovakia, the eurozone's second poorest member after Estonia, is battling close to 13-percent unemployment and like others in the 17-nation eurozone has opted for budget austerity.
Growth this year is forecast at 1.1 percent after 3.3 percent in 2011, but Slovakia's export-driven economy, dominated by the car and electronics industries, makes it vulnerable to the region's wider slump.
Dressed in jeans, Fico sang Slovak folk songs as he celebrated the resounding victory at his Bratislava party headquarters Sunday.
The win gave him the clout to "fully implement (...) a welfare state, improve the condition of public finances," but "not at the cost of low-income groups," he said.
"We don't want to heal public finances merely through taxes, that's not enough. We have to pursue economic growth too," he added in later comments to the public broadcaster STV.
Attacked by some as a populist demagogue, Fico had pledged to scrap Slovakia's trademark 19-percent flat tax on personal income by adding a 25 percent rate for those who earn more than 33,000 euros ($43,500) a year.
Backing the so-called Robin Hood tax on financial transactions within the eurozone, Fico has also floated the idea of imposing a 22-percent tax on lucrative companies, including banks and telecoms.
"Fico's policy won't be a liberal economic one," analyst Grigorij Meseznikov said. "He promotes the idea of a strong welfare state, strong public investments.
"But he will also have to explain to his voters unpopular steps like consolidating public finances. His voters will have to understand that even the most popular politician can't work miracles," he said.
Slovakia, a 2004 EU entrant, is striving to trim its public finance deficit to below the EU-mandated ceiling of three percent of gross domestic product in 2013 an expected 4.6 percent this year.
"The key priority of the new government must be to pursue fiscal consolidation," Volksbank analyst Vladimir Vano insisted.
Voters angered by an unprecedented corruption scandal which tarred parties of the outgoing centre-right punished them in Saturday's election.
Support for the ruling right-wing SDKU-DS party plunged from 15 percent in the 2010 election to 6.1 percent or 11 seats this year, putting it on par with its junior partner, the liberal SaS.
The Christian Democrats and newly formed right-wing Common People party came second in the vote with 16 seats each, while the ethnic Hungarian Most-Hid got 13 seats. Voter turnout exceeded 59 percent.
The campaign was dominated by the graft scandal following the leak late last year of a secret service wiretap report codenamed "Gorilla" that pointed to shady links between centre-right politicians and a local financial group.
Anger over the revelations erupted on the capital's streets on the eve of the poll, when rock-throwing protesters clashed with police who used tear gas and detained 19 demonstrators.
Text and Picture Copyright 2012 AFP. All other Copyright 2012 EUbusiness Ltd. All rights reserved. This material is intended solely for personal use. Any other reproduction, publication or redistribution of this material without the written agreement of the copyright owner is strictly forbidden and any breach of copyright will be considered actionable.