Slovak court suspends bill for Europe's longest pre-election poll blackout

PRAGUE (Reuters) - Slovakia’s Constitutional Court on Wednesday suspended a law putting in place one of the world’s longest bans on publishing opinion polls before elections, preventing the bill from taking effect before a parliamentary vote in February.

FILE PHOTO: Slovakia's President Zuzana Caputova takes the oath administered by President of the Constitutional Court Ivan Fiacan, during her swearing-in ceremony as the country's first female head of state, in Bratislava, Slovakia, June 15, 2019. REUTERS/Radovan Stoklasa

Opposition and critics have viewed the ruling party-backed bill, approved last month, as an attempt to sideline political newcomers before the European Union country’s Feb. 29 election.

The change would have extended the blackout on publishing polls on voting intentions to 50 days, from the already lengthy 14 days, which would have been the third-longest ban of its kind in the world, according to the Slovak Academy of Sciences.

President Zuzana Caputova had filed the motion against the law in which she argued it violated the right to information and that it limited political competition.

Opposition critics said the measure was aimed at disadvantaging challengers from new parties that could benefit from late shifts in support. It did not ban procuring polls but barred publication of any results.

The court ruling returns the black-out period to 14 days, pending further court deliberations that will take place at an unspecified future date.

The law had won backing from the ruling leftist Smer party, junior coalition partner Slovak National Party (SNS) and the opposition far-right People’s Party-Our Slovakia.

Its authors said the bill aimed to protect voters from disinformation so they could base their decisions on the parties’ program and actions.

Caputova, an activist lawyer and political newcomer herself, defeated Smer’s candidate in a presidential run-off in March after a late surge in support.

Smer leads polls, but has seen support slip since last year’s murder of an investigative journalist and his fiancée triggered mass protests over corruption and ousted prime minister Robert Fico, who had dominated the euro zone country’s politics for a decade.

Some polls have shown a wide coalition of opposition parties could edge Smer from power in the election.

Reporting by Jason Hovet and Jan Lopatka; Editing by Alex Richardson