Bratislava, Oct 29 (AFP/APP): Lawmakers in eurozone member Slovakia voted on Monday to ban the publication of opinion polls for 50 days ahead of election day, a move that pollsters termed “unprecedented” in Europe.
With a general election due in late February, lawmakers from the governing populist-left Smer Social Democracy party (Smer-SD) and others from a far-right opposition party joined forces to approve the government proposal to extend the ban from the current 14 days.
MPs in the 150-seat parliament voted 74 votes in favour versus 56 against, with two abstentions.
Although Slovakia’s liberal president Zuzana Caputova could veto the ban, parliament could re-adopt it with just 76 votes.
Experts suggest the move will be challenged in the Constitutional Court before it is due to take effect on January 1, 2020.
Vaclav Hrich, president of the Slovak Association of Market Research Agencies, called the ban “unprecedented in Europe” as any such restrictions are usually only imposed for just one or two days before election day.
“Slovakia will be at the forefront of countries limiting awareness of citizens before the elections,” he told AFP.
The independent think-tank, Institute for Public Affairs (IVO), said it was “outraged” by the move.
“Politicians… are obviously concerned that they will not succeed in an open and fair political competition,” it said in a statement.
The aim was “to prevent, through purposeful legislative manipulation, citizens of the Slovak Republic from accessing some of the most important information necessary for exercising their right to vote,” it argued.
The proponents of the measure insist it is intended “to protect voters from targeted information aimed at influencing them in favour of a particular political party”.
Slovakia, a country of 5.3 million people, is scheduled to hold a general election on February 29.
Topping the opinion polls with 22 percent support, the governing Smer-SD is poised to win, although its popularity has suffered badly in the wake of the 2018 murder of journalist Jan Kuciak, killed while investigating high-level corruption.
The gangland-style assassination triggered mass anti-government protests that forced then premier, Robert Fico, to resign and paved the way for the election of liberal anti-corruption activist Caputova as president in March.