Slovak Anti-Graft Parties Talk Coalition After Election Triumph

Radoslav Tomek and Peter Laca

(Bloomberg) -- Slovak anti-corruption parties that triumphed in elections this weekend pledged to quickly get down to the business of forming a government.

Propelled by anger at the killing of an investigative reporter two years ago, the four groups -- led by Ordinary People -- won an unexpectedly large parliamentary majority in Saturday’s vote. One of their first goals is to clean up the judiciary after graft accusations sank the ruling Smer party.

The election leaves Slovakia rooted in Europe’s mainstream -- heading off the risk it could deviate along the rebellious paths of neighboring Hungary and Poland and eliminating any chance of a far-right group joining the government. It comes less than a year after voters in the European Union and euro-region member elected their first woman president in a rebuke to nationalist and euroskeptic forces.

There are question marks, however, over the durability of the likely new government because of potential policy and personality clashes.

“I’m very happy Slovakia’s woken up,” Igor Matovic, Ordinary People’s 46-year-old leader, told supporters after his victory. With the potential coalition controlling almost two-thirds of parliament’s seats -- enough to change the constitution -- he later announced plans to start vetting judges.

While the EU says reforms elsewhere in its east seek to politicize the judiciary, trust in the court system among Slovaks is the bloc’s lowest.

“The key is to secure justice for people,” Matovic said Sunday in a televised debate. “So when they come to court, they know the judge isn’t corrupt.

Matovic, set up his pro-Western and pro-NATO movement a decade ago and gained a following with stunts like planting bundles of fake banknotes in parliament to highlight embezzlement claims. Other proposals include mandatory asset declarations for officials and wealthy individuals.

‘Textbook Populist’

The entrepreneur and lawmaker -- sometimes compared to Beppe Grillo, the ex-comedian who helped found Italy’s Five Star Movement -- has been a hit on social media by railing against graft. In one video from Cannes, France, he demanded that a villa belonging to Smer’s former finance minister be confiscated.

But he’s also squabbled in the past with opposition colleagues, questioning whether he can lead a stable government. His suggestion of “advisory referendums” on key issues, something Hungarian leader Viktor Orban has implemented, was quickly rejected by a potential ally.

“Matovic is a textbook populist,” said Pavol Hardos, a political scientist at Comenius University in Bratislava. “He’s the loudest and he’s been doing it for longest. He won because he’s become the most authentic voice of anger and frustration.”

The coalition would contain some unlikely bedfellows, melding together the anti-immigrant and anti-gay partnership We Are Family with the pro-business SaS that wants to decriminalize marijuana possession. That could lead to friction -- not what Slovakia needs amid a slowdown in its huge auto industry, the world’s biggest per capita.

The opposition bloc rode a wave of fury as the journalist’s killing exposed links between politicians and organized crime, triggering the biggest street protests since communism fell.

That spelled the end for Smer’s long-serving leader, Robert Fico, though the party retained power and there was speculation it could cling on by teaming up with the far-right People’s Party, which came fourth in the election.

To contact the reporters on this story: Radoslav Tomek in Bratislava at rtomek@bloomberg.net;Peter Laca in Prague at placa@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Andrea Dudik at adudik@bloomberg.net, Andrew Langley

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