Slovak vote on early election not binding due to low turnout

BRATISLAVA, Slovakia (AP) — A nationwide referendum in Slovakia on amending the country’s constitution to make possible an early election has failed to produce a legally binding result because the turnout was too low.

The country’s Statistics Office said Sunday that voters overwhelmingly voted “yes” — 97.5% — to the referendum question. However, Slovakia’s State Electoral Committee said the turnout was only 27.25%. To be legally binding, turnout in the ballot must be more than 50% in the nation of 5.4 million people.

Government supporters mostly boycotted the referendum, which was backed by the opposition.

President Zuzana Caputova decided on the ballot last year after three opposition parties gathered over 380,000 signatures supporting the move.

The constitution currently doesn’t offer the possibility of an early election. The referendum would have altered the constitution to allow it if it is approved by parliament or in a referendum.

In the nine referendums since Slovakia gained independence in 1993 after the split of Czechoslovakia, only the referendum on the country’s entry into the European Union in 2003 met the condition of 50% turnout.

The Slovaks still might hold an election earlier than the next regularly scheduled one in February 2024 if parliament votes to amend the Constitution anyway.

The decision to hold the referendum was taken before the coalition government led by Prime Minister Eduard Heger fell in December after losing a no-confidence vote in parliament following months of political crisis.

Caputova gave Parliament a deadline of the end of January to make a snap election possible. She asked Heger’s Cabinet to stay in office with reduced powers as a caretaker government.

If the political parties don’t meet the president’s deadline, Caputova said she would select a new prime minister and swear in his or her government.

Recent polls have suggested that the opposition would stand a good chance of winning if an election is held soon.