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Slovakia’s parliamentary system ensures regular multiparty elections and peaceful transfers of power between rival parties. While civil liberties are generally protected, democratic institutions are hampered by cronyism and political corruption, entrenched discrimination against the Romany minority, and growing political hostility toward potential migrants and refugees who could augment Slovakia’s tiny Muslim population. Such concerns have fueled the rise of right-wing nationalist parties in recent years.
- The ruling party, Direction–Social Democracy (Smer-SD), lost its outright majority in March parliamentary elections and formed a coalition with two other parties, including the nationalist Slovak People’s Party (SNS). A party led by the neo-Nazi Marián Kotleba entered the parliament with 8 percent of the vote.
- New corruption allegations against Interior Minister Robert Kaliňák, involving links to a businessman facing tax fraud charges, sparked months of protests and a failed no-confidence motion against Kaliňák and Prime Minister Robert Fico in September. In a positive step in October, the parliament adopted a law to block shell companies from involvement in the public procurement process.
- Throughout the year, Fico and other government officials characterized Muslim migrants as a threat to European security. The parliament voted in November to increase the membership threshold, from 20,000 to 50,000, for religious groups seeking official recognition or state benefits, in what was seen as an effort to prevent future registration of Muslim groups. The president vetoed the measure in December, returning it to the parliament for reconsideration.
Slovakia held elections for the 150-seat unicameral parliament in March 2016. The ruling Smer-SD secured 49 seats, losing its parliamentary majority, while the liberal center-right Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) placed second with 21 seats, and the conservative Ordinary People and Independent Personalities (OĽANO–NOVA) took 19. Most-Híd (Bridge), which advocates better cooperation between the country’s ethnic Hungarian minority and ethnic Slovak majority, took 11 seats.
Two far-right parties fared well, apparently benefiting from the government’s warnings that Slovakia risked being overrun by Muslim refugees. The nationalist SNS won 15 seats, while the People’s Party–Our Slovakia (ĽSNS), led by neo-Nazi regional governor Marián Kotleba, took 14 seats. The new parties We Are Family, led by wealthy businessman Boris Kollár, and Sieť (Network), headed by prominent conservative lawyer Radoslav Procházka, ran on anticorruption platforms and captured 11 and 10 seats, respectively.
Negotiations on a new government eventually yielded a four-party coalition composed of Smer-SD, SNS, Sieť, and Most-Híd. Sieť subsequently split and began to lose members, dropping out of the coalition in August.
Although Slovakia assumed the presidency of the European Union (EU) for the first time in July, Prime Minister Fico continued to push back strongly against the EU’s mandatory refugee resettlement quotas, finding common ground with the leaders of neighboring Poland and Hungary. In November, Slovakia presented the European Council with an alternative plan for resettling migrants. Throughout the year, the government used anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant rhetoric to underscore its stance against perceived threats to Slovakia’s sovereignty, security, and “values.”
In October, the parliament voted to impose new rules on the conduct of deputies during parliamentary sessions, including time limits on speeches and a ban on leaflets and audiovisual presentations. The speaker will be allowed to launch disciplinary proceedings against unruly deputies. President Andrej Kiska initially vetoed the legislation on the grounds that it was aimed at restricting the effective operation of the opposition, but the parliament overrode the veto.
Relations between the government and critical media outlets remained tense. Fico made headlines in November by calling some reporters “dirty, anti-Slovak prostitutes” following reports on possible corruption in state procurements. Journalists in the country continued to face the threat of criminal penalties for defamation and Holocaust denial.
Other corruption allegations dogged current and former public officials in 2016. Marek Gajdoš, head of the long-running “Gorilla file” investigation, stepped down in October, citing “intolerable” pressure by his superiors. He asserted that most of the allegations in the file— a leaked document on state surveillance of allegedly corrupt relationships between politicians and prominent businessmen—have turned out to be accurate, despite authorities’ reluctance to validate the material’s authenticity.
A stalemate between the president and parliament over the appointment of Constitutional Court judges persisted, leaving the 13-member court with three vacant seats.
This country report has been abridged for Freedom in the World 2017. For background information on political rights and civil liberties in Slovakia, see Freedom in the World 2016.