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2006 Election - Robert Fico

In parliamentary elections on June 17, 2006, the ruling center right coalition faced a tough challenge from the leftist opposition. Under Slovak Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda major foreign investors entered encouraged by incentives, including a flat tax rate of 19 percent. Foreign investment helped reduce the federal deficit and fuel economic growth, and analysts say Slovakia's goal of adopting the euro currency by 2009 seems realistic. Dzurinda also pushed his nation toward membership of the European Union and NATO. Yet opinion polls suggested his center right coalition will lose the battle for the ballots to the leftist Direction-Social Democracy Party, known as Smer.

Robert Fico, 41-year-old, said he wanted to reverse, or modify a number of economic policies that had made Slovakia a magnet for foreign investment. He said the reforms increased divisions between rich and poor in the country, which after Poland, had the European Union's highest unemployment of roughly 15 percent.

Bratislava analyst Martin Valentovic from the Center for Economic and Social Analysis, has noticed a dramatic difference between the capital Bratislava and the less developed Eastern parts of Slovakia. "In Bratislava the prices for services are several times higher than in other, not developed regions," said Valentovic. "The Bratislava region in GDP per capita is doing twice as well as other regions. In the Kosice region, the unemployment rate is three times higher than in the Bratislava region. The average salary in Bratislava is two times higher than in the Presov region."

Smer leader Fico announced he wanted to eliminate these regional and socio-economic differences by reversing tax, health and pension reforms, which he claims Slovaks felt had come about too quickly. He argued that an economic miracle based on cheap labor and what he calls uneven wealth distribution does not benefit ordinary Slovaks. That apparently struck a cord with many Slovaks.

On June 17, citizens voted six political parties into the National Council in free and fair elections. Three of the six parties then formed the governing coalition The party of the new Prime Minister Robert Fico received 29 percent of the national vote. A political party must receive at least five percent of the ballots cast to enter the National Council. In the June elections, voters had the option to mark a preferential vote for an individual candidate on a political party list, in addition to voting for a party.

The party of the Hungarian coalition holds 20 seats in the National Council. Some ethnic Romani individuals and parties were successful at winning representation at the local level; however, Roma were consistently underrepresented in government service, and no Roma were in the National Council. There was no unified Romani minority party, and several Romani activists reported that this hampered political participation. NGOs provided political campaign training to several Romani candidates running in the December local elections.

Robert Fico became Prime Minister, leading a coalition of Direction (Smer-SD), the Slovak National Party (SNS), and the People's Party - Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (LS-HzDS). Prime Minister Robert Fico's popularity dropped after a Slovak newspaper published an audio recording on the Internet in which Mr. Fico allegedly strikes a deal for 75 million Slovak crowns, over $3 million, in illegal funding for his left-leaning SMER party. Local media say the recording dated back to a meeting ahead of the 2002 parliamentary elections when Slovakia still used the Slovak crown, or koruna.

Corruption in the legislative and executive branches was reported and publicly perceived as a problem. The health care, judiciary, and education sectors were perceived to be the most corrupt.

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