Far-right leader wins election in Slovak region

Reuters News
Posted: Nov 25, 2013 5:33 AM

By Robert Muller

PRAGUE (Reuters) - The leader of a Slovak far-right party won a regional election at the weekend, the latest nationalist politician in Europe to capitalize on growing voter frustration over high unemployment and the region's flagging economy.

Marian Kotleba, leader of People's Party - Our Slovakia (LSNS), was elected regional governor of the Banska Bystrica region in central Slovakia with 55.5 percent of the vote after a run off with Vladimir Manka, representing the ruling party.

Kotleba, 36, who has been charged several times with disseminating racist propaganda but has been acquitted or had the charges dismissed, called for cuts to welfare spending on "parasites" and for domestically produced food to be promoted over Irish and Polish meat injected with "water and steroids".

His party also calls on Slovakia to reconsider privatizing strategic companies, returning to its crown currency and leaving NATO, an organization he calls "criminal".

"We all have lost," leading daily newspaper SME wrote on Monday. "The military boots at the Bystrica regional office are stomping on our heads. It is a price too high for breaking the Smer dominance."

Despite the victory, Kotleba's influence on decision-making in the Banska Bystrica region, which suffers from Slovakia's second highest jobless rate, will be limited because the ruling center-left Smer party controls the majority of the seats.

Smer, Prime Minister Robert Fico's party, won in six of eight regions in the country, showing his grip on power in the euro zone member was holding.

Fico's party swept to power in 2012 with promises to fight for the common man. His party remains the most popular, with 35.5 percent support in an October opinion poll from Focus agency, versus 2.2 percent for Kotleba's party.

Unemployment and economic grievances have combined with suspicion of European integration, Islam and multiculturalism to propel the popularity of the far right across the Europe, from Greece to France and the Nordic countries.

(editing by Elizabeth Piper)