Exit poll: Opposition wins Slovakia election

By Karel Janicek

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, March 10 2012 3:05 p.m. MST

A protester holds a toy monkey in a cage during an anti corruption demonstration in Bratislava, Slovakia, Friday, March 9, 2012. Hundreds of Slovaks are protesting in the capital to demand that top politicians accused of corruption step down. Slovakia is holding early general elections on Saturday, March 10, 2012.

Petr David Josek, Associated Press

BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — A leftist opposition party in Slovakia has won an early parliamentary election Saturday, according to an exit poll, in a vote brought on by the government's collapse in a confidence vote amid a major corruption scandal.

Smer-Social Democracy of former Prime Minister Robert Fico will receive 39.6 percent of the vote, according to the poll conducted by the Focus agency for state television and radio. It said the party will win exactly half of the 150-seat Parliament, one seat short of a majority that would allow it to govern alone.

The result would mean Fico will need a coalition partner to form a majority government. Fico said he was "satisfied" but said it was too early to jump to a conclusion.

"Let's wait for the official results," he said.

Fico said he was ready to discuss a possible coalition with any party that gains parliamentary seats. Fico is considered a populist leader who is pledging to maintain a welfare state, increase corporate tax and hike income tax for the highest earners.

The outgoing four-party coalition was projected to combine for just 31.4 percent, or 59 seats, as it faced voter anger over a major corruption scandal. The new Ordinary People that was campaigning on an anti-corruption ticket, would receive 8.8 percent, or 16 seats.

Fico's potential partner, the ultranationalist Slovak National Party, would be below the 5-percent threshold needed to win parliamentary representation.

Analysts have predicted a record low turnout of just 40 percent as voters register their anger over allegations that a private financial group bribed government and opposition politicians in 2005-06 to win lucrative privatization deals.

The "Gorilla" files — posted online by an anonymous source in December and said to be based on wiretaps — have rocked Slovak politics. One former economy minister is said to have received the equivalent of €10 million ($13 million) for his assistance.

Outgoing Prime Minister Iveta Radicova's Slovak Democratic and Christian Union looked to be hard hit by the allegations. Radicova's party was in power in 2005-06 and the then-prime minister, Mikulas Dzurinda, is now the foreign minister and party chairman. It would win 8.1 percent of the vote, despite overseeing an economic boom driven by solid growth, strong exports and the implementation of much-needed pension reforms. It won 15.4 percent at the 2010 ballot.

Disappointed by her government's collapse, Radicova is quitting politics and plans to lecture at Britain's Oxford University.

In October, Slovakia dramatically rejected Europe's expanded bailout fund — and the government fell in a confidence vote, triggering this weekend's elections. The small nation of 5.4 million people — once part of Czechoslovakia — was accused of undermining the entire eurozone with its brinkmanship. Parliament eventually approved the expanded EU fund after Fico's party voted "yes" in exchange for early elections.

Fico, whose party was in power in 2006-10, says he is innocent of the corruption allegations, even though he himself has been implicated, because he couldn't have influenced any decisions since he was part of the opposition.

Known for foul-mouthed tirades against journalists, Fico's election promises included a plan to build a new national soccer stadium and not to increase the pension age for women because they "don't deserve it." He is also against further privatization of state assets and opposes austerity measures, such as a value added tax increase, that would help keep the public finances healthy.

Analysts, however, warn Fico may not be ready to take the necessary steps to lower a high unemployment rate of more than 13 percent and reduce the deficit to 3 percent by 2013, as required after EU nations agreed on a deal to stop overspending in the 17 countries that use the euro.

"Unpopular measures have to be implemented," said Juraj Karpis, an analyst at the Bratislava Institute of Economic and Social Studies.

Parliament's 150 seats are at stake for a four-year term, with 26 parties in the running.

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