KATERINA ZACHOVALOVA When the polling booths open on April 11 and 25, Hungary will be the first of the three countries in Central Europe to choose a new government this spring. For Hungary and Slovakia, several groups have sought to make an election issue out of the questions of nationhood and ethnic minorities. Meanwhile, the Czechs look like they might swing to the left. The Czech voters will choose their next government on May 28-29, while in Slovakia the general election is slated for June 12. All three countries have suffered from the effects of the global economic crisis, and how parties propose to get their countries economies moving again is set to be a decisive factor in the elections. In Hungary, the indications are that the centre-right party Fidesz, headed by former Prime Minister Viktor Orban, is set to form the next government. Support for Fidesz in recent polls, at around 60 percent, is roughly triple that of its main political opponents, the governing Socialists and the far-right party Jobbik. The Hungarian Socialist Party has been in power since 2002 and has backed an interim government rather than face early elections a year ago when Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany resigned. A year of stringent austerity measures including major cuts to the public sector wages and pensions, although greeted with approval abroad, has done little to improve the Socialists popularity at home. The Socialists appear to be facing a massive defeat in the wake of the economic crisis and numerous high-profile corruption scandals. The nationalist party Jobbik has seen its popularity increase during the hard times, enough to secure it three of Hungarys 22 seats at the European Parliament with 15 percent of the vote in elections since last June. The party is known for its uniformed paramilitary Hungarian Guard, recently outlawed for violating the rights of Roma villagers during a rally against gypsy crime. Jobbik speaks of all Hungarians in the region - not just the 10 million that live in Hungary - as one nation, and looks set to form a noisy caucus on the opposition back benches. Slovakia, home to a half-a-million strong Hungarian-speaking minority, has been watching closely. In March, the Slovak Parliament passed a new patriotism act aimed at fostering a love of their mountainous homeland among the countrys 5.4 million citizens. Last year, the introduction of legislation that restricts the use of minority languages in Slovak public life led to a diplomatic row between Slovakia and Hungary that required international mediation. It has since been vetoed and sent back to Parliament, where its fate remains uncertain. In Slovakia, the June 12 polls are seen as a test for Prime Minister Robert Fico, the left-leaning populist head of the Social Democratic Party, Smer. Fico enjoys high popularity at the end of his first term, despite numerous scandals over alleged corruption resulting in frequent Cabinet reshuffles. He remains clean. It is always someone else who causes harm behind his back, said Sona Szomolanyi, a professor of political science at Bratislavas Comenius University. Smers junior coalition partners are both parties led by controversial Slovak politicians: the authoritarian former premier Vladimir Meciar and the anti-Hungarian nationalist Jan Slota. Neither party is certain of gaining the 5 percent needed to return to Parliament, polls suggest. With Smer notching up around 35 percent in opinion polls, the key question after the Slovak elections could well be that of who will form the next coalition with Ficos party. The Czech Republic, like Hungary, is also headed by a caretaker government. Unlike Hungary and Slovakia, its election campaign has so far focused almost entirely on traditional issues such as jobs, health care, social security and corruption. Until its embarrassing collapse in March 2009, midway through the Czech presidency of the European Union, former premier Mirek Topolaneks three-party centre-right coalition was at the helm. Just two months before the polls, Topolaneks rightwing Civic Democratic Party found itself in disarray and trailing behind its leftist rivals. Topolanek quit the race in late March under pressure from his party. The centre-left Social Democrats, led by another ex-premier, Jiri Paroubek, are promising more jobs, cheaper health care, lower energy prices, no cuts in welfare and higher taxes for the rich. Their rightwing opponents face a tough job to persuade voters that tightening a sprawling budget gap could prove impossible if such promises are kept. In the numerous opinion polls conducted in March, support for Topolaneks party dipped as low as 20 percent, while the Social Democrats enjoyed a lead of 4.4 to 13.8 percentage points. Although Topolaneks departure opens the door to a grand coalition if the election results, as in 2006, in deadlock between right and left, his successor, Petr Necas, has denied interest in such a solution. Kuwait Times