|Anti-corruption protests took place in Bratislava on Friday calling on Slovaks not to vote [Reuters]|
An exit poll suggests that a leftist opposition party appears to be winning an early parliamentary election in Slovakia.
The poll indicated Saturday the Smer-Social Democracy of Robert Fico, the former prime minister, could get 39.6 per cent of the vote and win exactly half of the 150-seat Parliament.
The result would mean Fico will need a coalition partner to form a majority government. Fico is considered a populist leader who is pledging to maintain a welfare state, increase corporate tax and hike income tax for the highest earners.
The outgoing four-party coalition was projected to combine for just 31.4 per cent or 59 seats as it faced voter anger over a major corruption scandal. The new Ordinary People would receive 8.8 per cent, or 16 seats.
Slovaks are currently voting in an early general election that is overshadowed by a major bribery scandal – the so-called so-called “Gorilla” fraud scandal. Voting began at 0600 GMT and ends at 2100 GMT.
Named after a shady character allegedly involved in the scandal, the Gorilla files allege most parties in the 1998-2006 centre-right government of then-prime minister Mikulas Dzurinda were mired in corruption owing to close ties with Penta, a local financial group.
Anti-corruption protesters numbering around 1,000 massed in Bratislava, the Slovak capital, on the eve of the vote, yelling “treason, treason” and carrying banners with slogans such as “I don’t vote for gorillas, I vote for change”.
About 300 demonstrators pelted police with stones and eggs and officers used tear gas to keep them from storming parliament.
The information was leaked on the internet in December as secret service wiretaps, but police have yet to confirm the Gorilla files’ authenticity.
The Social Democrats are standing on a pledge to tax the rich and better protect the working class as the country grapples with high unemployment and economic turmoil.
However, a low turnout is expected as many Slovak voters, disillusioned by scandals, will stay away from the ballot box and polls show turnout may fall to a record low 44 per cent.
Fico, who served one term as the central European country’s prime minister in 2006 to 2010, has pledged to dump Dzurinda’s flagship reform – a 19 per cent flat income tax.
His plans involve almost doubling a special tax on bank deposits to 0.7 per cent and raising the corporate tax to 22 per cent, from 19 per cent now.
Fico’s message aimed at poorer, older, and rural voters has served him well in the eurozone’s second-poorest country, where 13.7 per cent are out of a job.
The election comes two years early, after an SDKU-led coalition government collapsed in acrimony last October when one of its junior members, the free-market SaS party, refused to back the expansion of the eurozone’s bailout fund.