Slovak left eyes victory as graft scandal stumps rivals

Slovaks vote in an early general election Saturday, with the left-wing party of ex-premier Robert Fico eyeing victory as a corruption scandal has right-wing rivals fighting for political survival.

Opinion polls showed Fico's Smer social democrats poised for power in the wake of the so-called "Gorilla" corruption scandal, which has syphoned the popularity of right-wing contenders implicated in graft.

Anti-corruption protests drew around 1,000 people in the Slovak capital on the eve of the vote, with demonstrators yelling "treason, treason" and carrying banners emblazoned with slogans such as "I don't vote for gorillas, I vote for change."amed after a shady character allegedly involved in the graft 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.  

The information was leaked on the Internet in December as secret service wiretaps. 

Police have yet to confirm the Gorilla files' authenticity, but the head of Slovakia's SIS secret service admitted it had carried out such a wire-tapping operation. 

While surveys suggest that some 30 per cent of voters remain undecided, the election prospects of most centre-right coalition parties are on the verge of being wiped out by the allegations.

Fico's Smer-Social Democracy is likely to win some 39 percent of the vote and take 75 seats - just one short of a majority in the 150-member parliament, according to a recent poll. 

Christian democrats are polling 10.4 percent support or 20 seats and are tipped by analysts as Smer's most likely coalition partner.

Heavily tarred by the leaks, Dzurinda's governing SDKU-DS is expected to see support drop to about five per cent the threshold to enter parliament -- from the more than 15 per cent it scored in the 2010 election.  

Its former coalition partners, the ethnic-Hungarian party Most-Hid and liberal eurosceptic Freedom and Solidarity (SaS), could slip out of parliament. 

The ex-communist nation of 5.4 million, which joined the eurozone in 2009, was forced into an early election when popular centre-right Prime Minister Iveta Radicova sacrificed her government in an October confidence vote to secure passage of a eurozone bailout bill. 

Fico had agreed his party's crucial support for the bailout package in exchange for the early election which he was confident he could win.

Although Slovakia is expected to be among the eurozone's top performers this year with growth forecast at 1.1 per cent, its export-driven economy dependent on the auto and electronics sectors makes it vulnerable to the slump triggered by the Eurozone's debt crisis.


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