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article imageAnti-graft party wins Slovakia vote haunted by journalist murder

By Laszlo JUHASZ (AFP)     Feb 29, 2020 in World

Slovak voters handed a resounding victory to the centre-right, anti-graft OLaNO opposition party in Saturday's general election, dominated by an angry backlash over the 2018 murder of a journalist probing corruption in the eurozone state.

Having vowed to immediately push through anti-corruption measures when in office, OLaNO leader Igor Matovic galvanised voter outrage over the murder of Jan Kuciak and his fiancee, and the high-level graft their deaths exposed.

Allegedly a hit ordered by a businessman with connections to politicians, the killings have become a lightning rod for public outrage at graft in public life.

"People want us to clean up Slovakia. They want us to make Slovakia a fair country where laws will apply to everyone," Matovic told reporters as near full results showed his party had skyrocketed to victory.

"It was the death of Jan Kuciak and Martina Kusnirova that woke up Slovakia," he said, vowing later in the night that his administration will have "zero tolerance for corruption."

Outgoing Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini conceded defeat as near full partial results showed OLaNO outpacing his populist-left Smer-SD by six percentage points.

"Congratulations to the election winner, good health, good luck," Pellegrini told Matovic, adding "he has good marketing, but we will be interested in how he will handle his office."

OLaNO took 24.96 percent for 52 seats and could possibly clinch a majority of 77 or more in the 150-member parliament, near full results showed.

Matovic said he would seek talks with the We Are Family conservatives who scored 8.26 percent for 17 seats as well as the liberal Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) party and the fellow liberal "For the People" party of ex-president Andrej Kiska -- which got 13 and 12 seats respectively.

The governing populist-left Smer-SD party won 18.39 percent support and 39 seats, while the far-right Our Slovakia LSNS got 17 seats.

The result suggests Smer-SD lacks obvious coalition partners as it has ruled out teaming up with LSNS.

Matovic meanwhile said he would not cooperate with Smer-SD.

"No way. We don't negotiate with the mafia," Matovic said, in response to a quip from Pellegrini on the possibility of cooperation

- 'Thirsty for power' -

Analysts suggest that OLaNO's Matovic, a 46-year-old media-savvy but unpredictable politician, could become premier if he can unify the splintered opposition.

An eccentric self-made millionaire and former media boss, Matovic set up "Ordinary People and Independent Personalities -- OLaNO" a decade ago.

OLaNO  led by Igor Matovic  took 25.8 percent of the vote ahead of a stinging 14.9 percent for the g...
OLaNO, led by Igor Matovic, took 25.8 percent of the vote ahead of a stinging 14.9 percent for the governing Smer-SD party
JOE KLAMAR, AFP

Matovic told reporters that he had agreed by phone to meet with President Zuzana Caputova on "Monday or Tuesday" and that he would begin talks with leaders of other opposition parties that made it into parliament on Sunday.

"There is a chance that this new government will last until the end of its term," said Slovakia analyst Tomas Koziak, the Rector of the University of Political Sciences based in Kutna Hora, Czech Republic.

"These parties have been in opposition for a very long time, therefore their top politicians are thirsty for power. Power is the strongest glue," Koziak told AFP.

- Decency in politics -

According to Bratislava-based political analyst Radoslav Stefancik, "the election is primarily about the desire for decency in politics".

"Instead of protesting against the ruling Smer-SD party on the streets, people will do so in polling stations," Stefancik told AFP.

"Change is much needed here," said Daniela Jonasova, a 35-year-old office clerk, who told AFP she voted for OLaNO.

The double murder triggered the largest anti-government protests since communist times and toppled Fico as prime minister, with his party colleague Peter Pellegrini taking up the reins.

It also propelled Zuzana Caputova, a liberal lawyer and anti-graft activist, out of nowhere to win last year's presidential race in the country of 5.4 million people.

Heavily dependent on car-making, economic growth in the Slovak economy is projected to slow to 2.2 percent this year, according to the European Commission's latest forecast.

Unemployment is relatively low and stood at around 5.6 percent in late 2019.

Turnout tallied at 65.63 percent of the electorate, near full results showed, up from 59.8 in 2016.

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