Slovak leader asks court to quash Europe's longest pre-election poll blackout

Slovak leader asks court to quash Europe's longest pre-election poll blackout
Slovakia's President Zuzana Caputova arrives for the NATO leaders summit in Watford, Britain December 4, 2019. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls Copyright HENRY NICHOLLS(Reuters)
Copyright HENRY NICHOLLS(Reuters)
By Reuters
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BRATISLAVA (Reuters) - Slovakia's president asked the Constitutional Court on Thursday to strike down a lengthy ban on publishing opinion polls ahead of elections in February, a restriction seen by most opposition parties as an attempt to sideline political newcomers.

The law enacted last month extends the blackout on publishing polls on voting intentions to 50 days from the already lengthy 14 days, giving Slovakia the third-longest ban of its kind in the world after Cameroon and Tunisia, according to the Slovak Academy of Sciences.

The measure was adopted ahead of an election due on Feb. 29 next year with the votes of the ruling leftist Smer party, junior coalition 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' programmes and actions.

Opposition critics said the measure, which follows a bill tightening the financing rules for new parties, was aimed at disadvantaging challengers from new parties that could benefit from late shifts in support.

In her motion filed with the court, President Zuzana Caputova argued that the bill violates the right to information and that it limited political competition.

The Constitutional Court may put the implementation of the ban on hold before Jan. 10 -- the deadline for publication of polls under the 50-day blackout -- until a final ruling that is likely to follow later.

The bill does not ban parties from procuring their own opinion polls, as long as they keep the information out of the public domain, but it imposes fines of up to 10,000 euros on publishers for releasing polls during the blackout.

Slovakia, like other countries in Europe, has seen a rise in new parties in recent years.

Caputova, an activist lawyer and political newcomer herself, defeated Smer's candidate in a presidential runoff in March after a late surge in support.

Smer has seen a slide in support 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.

His three-party coalition government has survived and the socially conservative Smer remains the favourite to take the largest share of the vote - but it is not clear if voting shifts would allow it to form a parliamentary majority.

(Reporting By Tatiana Jancarikova, Editing by William Maclean)

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