February 14, 2020 / 5:08 PM / 3 days ago

Slovak opposition well-placed in poll to unseat long-ruling Smer

PRAGUE (Reuters) - Slovakia’s long-ruling leftist Smer party held a narrow lead in the final poll on Friday before a Feb. 29 election, but its support fell below 17% percent giving opposition parties a chance to put together a majority in the next parliament.

Slovakia is holding its first national parliamentary election since the 2018 murder of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak, which sparked the biggest demonstrations in three decades against what protesters said was widespread corruption in the central European country of 5.5 million.

A presidential vote in 2019 saw activist lawyer Zuzana Caputova defeat Smer’s candidate. Opposition parties are hoping to repeat that victory this month.

Smer has led the country for 12 of the last 14 years but has seen its support slip from above 20% in the past year, amid the fallout from the Kuciak murder. A prominent businessmen with ties across the political establishment is one of five people standing trial over the killing.

An AKO agency poll, conducted among 1,000 people between Feb. 11-13, showed support for Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini’s Smer falling to 16.9%.

The poll, coming just before a two-week moratorium on polling takes effect, projected the top six opposition parties would gather 93 seats in the 150-member parliament, led by the centrist OLANO party that has vaulted into a close second place this month.

A Focus agency poll confirmed OLANO’s advance on Thursday.

With four parties - two from the opposition and two that could be potential partners for Smer in a coalition - hovering around the 5% threshold to win parliamentary seats, analysts have cautioned final results were tough to predict.

OLANO leader Igor Matovic, 46, entered parliament in 2010 on another party’s ticket. He has caught attention with fierce attacks against alleged corruption among politicians in other parties.

“The stability of a government led by OLANO remains a significant question given the confrontational style of its leader and his unpredictable behaviour,” said political analyst Branislav Dolny.

Analysts said Smer could still win the vote but the weakness of its two junior coalition partners, both in danger of losing their seats, would be a hurdle.

Pellegrini could seek help from the far-right People’s Party Our Slovakia (Kotlebovci-LSNS) of former high-school teacher Marian Kotleba, which has surged in polls recently to a third position.

Kotlebovci-LSNS won more seats than expected at the last election in 2016, as analysts said their voters often hid their preferences in polls.

** For an interactive graphic on AKO polls: tmsnrt.rs/2SWKVkv

Graphic - Slovak election polls: here

** For an interactive graphic on Focus polls: tmsnrt.rs/2OQAD4a

Graphic - Slovak election polls: here

Reporting by Robert Muller; Editing by Jason Hovet and Alex Richardson

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