There was a startling life-imitates-politics moment during Saturday’s parliamentary elections in Slovakia, when the Krásna Hôrka castle, a national monument, burned to a smoking ruin. With the centre-right government also in flames, social networks quivered with a horrified question: how bad could this get? For the right wing – historically bad. For the first time in its 18-year history, Slovakia will be ruled by a single party, the social-democratic Smer (Direction) led by lawyer Robert Fico. With 44% of the vote, Fico captured 83 of 150 seats, and is now picking ministers ahead of a swift transfer of power. As impressive as the left’s victory was, Fico arguably had little to do with it. Last autumn, the four government parties quarrelled over the euro bailout scheme, and then petulantly refused to make up. The result was early elections, less than two years after the coalition took office, and an electorate fed up with such arrant folly. In rural countries, let it be said, rightwing governments should consider themselves lucky.
Then, just before Christmas, the brooding right was levelled by a devastating corruption scandal. A surveillance file, said to be compiled by the secret service in 2006 and codenamed Gorilla, was posted on the internet. Apparently consisting of a dozen intercepted conversations that took place in a Bratislava flat, Gorilla allegedly caught rightwing politicians and the owner of an influential local capital group discussing millions of euros in kickbacks from rigged privatisation sales and fixed public procurement tenders. Those implicated wriggled and squirmed, and the secret service refused to help investigators. But after the interior minister declared the file “authentic” and the surveillance operation “legal” and “justified”, the public’s mind was made up. Fico might be no saint, but he at least offered a stable alternative to such heedless avarice.
The results of elections, published on Sunday morning, were even worse for the right than exit polls had suggested. The two largest parties of the ruling coalition won barely enough votes to get back into parliament (there is a 5% quorum in Slovakia). If the Christian Democrats did slightly better, it was thanks to their control of the interior ministry, which had raised a very loud and public hue and cry after the Gorilla scoundrels. To salt their wounds, a puckish figure named Igor Matovič soaked up most of the right’s losses, leading his ragtag Ordinary People party to its first ever berth in parliament. Matovič, who is known for getting his face slapped by female politicians and camping out on city squares to protest MP privileges, may now become the deputy speaker of the legislature. Tongue squarely in cheek, of course.