One month after the victory of Zuzana Čaputová as a candidate of Progressive Slovakia (PS) in Slovakia’s presidential elections, the young, progressive grassroots party is quickly becoming one of the leading opposition forces in the country.
Last year’s murder of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancee triggered mass anti-corruption protests across Slovakia and led to the resignation of Smer leader Robert Fico as prime minister.
The ruling social-conservative party Smer, that has dominated Slovak politics during the past decade and whose presidential candidate lost to Čaputová last March, saw its support fall below 20% for the first time in the last ten years, according to a recent opinion poll. The coalition of Progressive Slovakia and Spolu (‘Together’) party, meanwhile, came in second with 13.4% (a 4 percentage point increase compared to March), thus positioning itself as one of the leading forces of the Slovak opposition ahead of this month’s EU ballot and next year’s national elections.
The rise of Progressive Slovakia
Progressive Slovakia came into the public eye and gained wider public awareness last year, when Matúš Vallo, an independent running with the support from PS, won the municipal elections in Bratislava and became the mayor of Slovakia’s capital city. The election of Zuzana Čaputová, a former deputy PS chairwoman who confirmed she would leave the party once sworn into office to comply with the presidential office’s customary political neutrality, also contributed to Progressive Slovakia’s increased visibility.
An important twist occurred at the beginning of April, when the current chairman of PS, Ivan Štefunko, announced he was stepping down for health-related reasons but amid growing controversy regarding his past political and business dealings. A former anti-corruption activist, especially in the IT sector, vice-president Michal Truban is so far the only candidate who publicly announced his intention to run to replace Ivan Štefunko at the helm of the young liberal party. The new chairman will be elected on May 8.
Within Progressive Slovakia, M. Truban is in charge of digitization and the reduction of bureaucracy in state administration processes. Michal Truban is an advocate of a radical digitization program in state administration and bureaucratic procedures in order for Slovaks not to have to go to offices to fill out various forms, a common practice today (including for the sizable Slovak community living abroad). During the campaign, Michal Truban visited Estonia, widely recognized as one of the world’s leaders in digitization and e-government practices.
Restoring citizens’ trust in public institutions and representatives
In terms of domestic policy, the primary goals of PS are to increase the public administration’s efficiency, the fight against corruption and improvement of the business environment. Progressive Slovakia also puts a considerable stress on environmental questions and the Roma minority issue.
But above all, the party’s most important aim seems, as exemplified by Čaputová’s rhetoric on the campaign trail, to be the overall restoration of the trust of the Slovak public in state institutions and its political representatives – an issue that currently poses a significant threat to democracy in Central Europe as a whole, and Slovakia in particular.
In social matters, Progressive Slovakia holds, as its name indicates, liberal attitudes, including regarding its support for same-sex partnerships – during the campaign, the issue that raised the most controversy was when Čaputová, the PS’s candidate for president, expressed her support for child adoption by same-sex couples.
A deeply pro-European party
The success of Zuzana Caputova has also given a spark of optimism to Europe’s liberal camp, possibly cementing the position of PS ahead of this month’s EU elections. A coalition comprising the extra-parliamentary PS and Spolu parties is currently running its campaign for the European Parliament elections under the slogan ‘A Genuinely European Slovakia’, led by Michal Šimečka, vice-chairman of Progressive Slovakia and expert on European and foreign policy.
Progressive Slovakia is in favour of deeper European cooperation and portrays itself as a strongly pro-European political party – which also explains why PS is sometimes compared to France’s centrist movement ‘En Marche!’ (now ‘La République en Marche’), founded by French president Emmanuel Macron – and with whom PS is reportedly in contact.
Progressive Slovakia and Spolu saw their combined support rising since February to 14.4% in April, an AKO agency poll revealed. If successful in the European Parliament elections, the PS candidates would join the ranks of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), while Spolu would take part to the center-right European People’s Party (EPP), widely expected to remain the biggest political grouping in the European Parliament after this year’s elections.