June 27, 2019 / 3:32 PM / 22 days ago

Slovakia's new parties cry foul as lawmakers tighten financing rules

BRATISLAVA (Reuters) - Slovakia’s parliament on Thursday rushed through draft legislation tightening campaign financing rules, a move seen by new parties as the ruling coalition’s strike against rivals before next year’s general elections.

The bill, adopted in less than two days — much shorter than the usual months it takes to pass legislation — will limit parties’ income from donations and loans to 3.5 million euros ($3.98 million) for a four-year term and cap annual donations from party members at 10,000 euros each.

There were no limits until now.

The ceiling means parties’ main income will come from state budget contributions that they get after general elections.

This gives a headstart to parties in parliament against newly established ones such as the liberal alliance Progressive Slovakia/Together, that won last month’s European Union parliament election in Slovakia, or former president Andrej Kiska’s Za ludi (For the people) party.

“They fear us therefore they are changing the rules of the political competition at the very last minute,” Kiska said in a statement.

President Zuzana Caputova, an anti-corruption campaigner who was sworn into office on June 15, did not say on Thursday whether she would sign the party financing measure into law but criticized the speed at which the changes were passed.

TRANSPARENCY

Slovakia has been ahead of its central European peers in EU integration, including its membership in the euro zone. Unlike Hungary and Poland, it has avoided any conflicts with the European Commission over rule of law or other democratic principles, although it did clash with Brussels over its refusal to accept asylum seekers under an EU quota system.

The ruling coalition of the leftist Smer, nationalist Slovak National Party and ethnic Hungarian Most party defended the financing caps, saying in the draft law “they will bring more transparency into financing of political parties and prevent parties from taking excessive loans before elections”.

It was backed by two smaller opposition parties.

Nominally leftist but socially conservative Smer remains the most popular party in polls for the parliamentary election but its approval ratings were hit last year by the murder of Jan Kuciak, a journalist who investigated high-level graft cases, and his fiancée, at their home.

The killings sparked mass demonstrations against the perceived impunity of businessmen with links to Smer and eventually forced Smer leader Robert Fico to resign as prime minister. He was replaced by party ally Peter Pellegrini.

An opinion poll by the Focus agency released on Thursday put the support for Smer at 20.3%, followed by Progressive Slovakia/Together at 15.7% and far-right People’s Party-Our Slovakia at 12.6%. Kiska’s new party would win 5.2%, just above the 5% threshold to win parliamentary seats.

Reporting By Tatiana Jancarikova; editing by Emelia Sithole-Matrise

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