Bratislava, Slovakia – Slovakia’s Parliament overruled a presidential veto on Tuesday to introduce one of the world’s longest pre-election polling blackout.
Slovak MP’s defy presidential veto and extend moratorium
Last month, Slovak lawmakers approved a bill extending the ban on the publication of opinion polls to 50 days before elections, compared to 18 until now.
The law, introduced by the governing Smer party and supported by the Slovak National Party (SNS) and the far-right LSNS, has sparked outrage among opposition parties and civil society activists. President Zuzana Caputova vetoed the law earlier this month, arguing that it “flies in the face of several constitutional guaranteed rights”.
Critics argue the plan is a violation of citizens’ rights to information, is meant to sideline political newcomers and boost the ruling party’s chances to win the upcoming parliamentary elections, to be held in late February next year.
Its proponents, on the other hand, claim that the law is meant to restrain political parties from commissioning and publishing opinion polls in the run-up to elections and help voters make an informed decision without being submitted to a wave of surveys with widely-varying results.
“Bad news for freedom and democracy in Slovakia”
According to the Slovak Academy of Sciences, Slovakia’s moratorium would be the third longest in the world after Cameroon and Tunisia.
Under the proposal, political parties would still be allowed to commission their own surveys, but would be barred from making their findings public. A number of high-ranking politicians from Smer have criticized the bill, including Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini and Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajcak.
According to Veronika Remisova, vice-chair of ‘For the People’, “parties of the governing coalition are concerned by their decreasing polls and don’t want people to find out before the election”.
Junior coalition partner SaS refused to back the bill, labeling it “extremely bad news for freedom and democracy in Slovakia”.
Extended polling blackout to be examined by Constitutional Court
Analysts also point to the fact that opinion polls might still be leaked, and that foreign media, including in neighbouring Czech Republic, could very well publish them and inform Slovak voters of their results.
Although remaining in the lead in most opinion polls, support for Fico’s ruling Smer party has dropped in recent months, and opposition parties, including former President Andrej Kiska’s newly-formed ‘For the People’ and the PS-Spolu coalition, appear to be slowly closing in.
President Zuzana Caputova said she would take the matter to the Constitutional Court. “Ms. President, of course, has the license to reach out to the Constitutional Court, but that would be a failure to appreciate political reality”, former Prime Minister and Smer chairman Robert Fico said.