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Slovak Prime Minister Faces Leftist Challenge in Elections

  • Stefan Bos

Parliamentary elections under way in Slovakia are expected to determine whether the county's current government can continue reforms, which sparked substantial economic growth. The ruling center right coalition faces a tough challenge from the leftist opposition.

Under Slovak Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda major foreign investors entered encouraged by incentives, including a flat tax rate of 19 percent.

Foreign investment helped reduce the federal deficit and fuel economic growth, and analysts say Slovakia's goal of adopting the euro currency by 2009 seems realistic.

Mr. Dzurinda also pushed his nation toward membership of the European Union and NATO.

Yet opinion polls suggest his center right coalition will lose the battle for the ballots to the leftist Direction-Social Democracy Party, known as Smer.

Its leader, 41-year-old Robert Fico, says he wants to reverse, or modify a number of economic policies that have made Slovakia a magnet for foreign investment. He says the reforms increased divisions between rich and poor in the country, which after Poland, has the European Union's highest unemployment of roughly 15 percent.

Bratislava analyst Martin Valentovic from the Center for Economic and Social Analysis, has noticed a dramatic difference between the capital Bratislava and the less developed Eastern parts of Slovakia.

"In Bratislava the prices for services are several times higher than in other, not developed regions," said Valentovic. "The Bratislava region in GDP per capita is doing twice as well as other regions. In the Kosice region, the unemployment rate is three times higher than in the Bratislava region. The average salary in Bratislava is two times higher than in the Presov region."

Smer leader Fico has announced he wants to eliminate these regional and socio-economic differences by reversing tax, health and pension reforms, which he claims Slovaks feel have come about too quickly.

He argues that an economic miracle based on cheap labor and what he calls uneven wealth distribution does not benefit ordinary Slovaks.

That apparently has struck a cord with many Slovaks. The head of the media research department of Slovak Radio, Ivan Secik, says he is not sure whether Mr. Fico and his Smer party will receive enough votes to easily form the next government.

"Smer it knows it is going to win the election, and it leads opinion polls with over 30 percent support. However, the situation was the same in previous elections, where, at the end, Smer received almost five percent less support than public surveys indicated," said Secik.

Analysts say no party is likely to win an outright majority, meaning the leading party will have to form a coalition.

Election to the 150-member parliament is by proportional representation, for a four-year term.