Czechs and Slovaks spent 80 years in a common state, though the countries' fates have often diverged since the split of Czechoslovakia in 1993. But now, by coincidence, just two weeks after elections here in the Czech Republic, voters in Slovakia go to the polls this Saturday. Early elections were called in February after the Christian Democrats left the centre-right government of Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda.
Rob Cameron is following the developments in Bratislava. Rob, the opposition right of Centre Civic Democrats won most votes here and they're currently in talks on forming a centre-right coalition government. Latest opinion polls in Slovakia, on the other hand, suggest that the left-wing opposition party Smer, led by Robert Fico, currently enjoys the strongest support...
"That's right. The centre-left party Smer, led by Robert Fico, is well ahead in the polls. They enjoy support of around 30 percent according to the latest opinion polls, which were released this week just a few days before the elections. The support for the party has dipped in recent weeks but it still looks fairly certain that the centre-left, Fico and Smer, are going to win the elections."
How much influence have Czech politicians and the media had on the elections?
"There has actually been considerable influence. I watched a TV debate last night with the leaders of the three main parties contending this election. They are Mikulas Dzurinda - the prime minister and leader of the biggest centre-right party in government, Mr Fico - the leader of Smer, and Vladimir Meciar - the former prime minister who was criticised for being authoritarian. Comments made by Mr Dzurinda in the Czech press featured heavily in that debate.
"Mr Dzurinda accused Mr Fico of being a Bolshevik and Mr Meciar of being a crook and a lot of that debate went back and forth about those allegations. So, event though they would be reluctant to admit it, I think Slovaks do care what Czechs, Czech politicians, and the Czech media think about them and the situation here and I think that was reflected in the campaign before the elections."
What would you say has led to this fresh rise in popularity of the controversial nationalist former prime minister, Vladimir Meciar?
"It's not just him. His former coalition partner, the Slovak National Party of Jan Slota, also looks like returning to parliament after four years in the political wilderness. If these nationalists do well in these elections we can say that this is very much a protest vote. A lot of people are very unhappy with the centre-right reforms of Mikulas Dzurinda and they are very fed up. They feel that the economic benefits, which massive foreign investment has brought to Slovakia, simply have not trickled down to the vast majority of ordinary Slovaks. So, if those parties do well this weekend, I think you could say that this election was in many ways a referendum on these radical right-wing reforms of Mikulas Dzurinda."
Now, the Slovaks couldn't have picked a worse day to hold the elections - it's on a weekend, it's expected to be warm and sunny, and we're right in the middle of the World Cup. So, a low voter turnout is expected as many Slovaks say they will have better things to do than go to the polls on Saturday...
"Right now, it is extremely hot. It's almost 30 degrees Celsius and it was 30 degrees yesterday too. The weekend also looks like it's going to be a hot one. A lot of people will take off and head for their cottages and for the lakes that are dotted around Bratislava and across the country. People will also head off into the mountains. So, I think a lot of people will decided not to vote this weekend. There is also a genuine feeling of disgust with a lot of the politicians here. So, turnout could be quite low. If it is, though, then that will play into the hands of Mikulas Dzurinda because of the way the party support is distributed in this country and Mr Fico, perhaps, can expect not to do quite as well as he might have done if the weather was bad, if the World Cup wasn't on, and if more people went to the polls."
Just one final comparison - the Communists have had very little support in Slovakia for almost a decade while here in the Czech Republic they are the third strongest party. How do you account for this?
"Well, for one thing, the Communists look like they are returning to parliament this year. At the moment they have about 8 percent of support in the opinion polls. In fact, up to eight parties could enter the Slovak Parliament this time, which would obviously make building a coalition very difficult. But I think it is partly due to the success of Mr Fico and his centre-left party. He has attracted a lot of left-wing voters with promises of restoring what he calls social stability and rolling back Mr Dzurinda's reforms. So, primarily, it is down to the success of Rober Fico and Smer."
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