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The European Elections Monitor
Slovakia - Presidential Election

Failure of referendum and surprise elimiination of Edward Kukan during the first round of the presidential election

Failure of referendum and surprise elimiination of Edward Kukan during the first round of the presidential election

03/04/2004 - Results

Ultimately, the referendum on holding early general elections failed due to an insufficient participation rate. Indeed whilst half of those on the electoral role had to turn out to vote for the referendum to be declared valid only 35.876% of the Slovaks fulfilled their duty as citizens. The high abstention rate surprised the political analysts, who, on the eve of the election, were counting on an albeit insufficient participation rate of around 45% to validate the referendum. In spite of the high popularity that it enjoys, the opposition party SMER (Direction), led by Robert Fico, did not therefore win its wager to overthrow Mikulas Dzurinda's government (Christian and Democratic Union, SDKU). All of the coalition parties (Christian and Democratic Union, the Christian Democrat Movement (KDH), the New Citizen's Alliance (ANO) and the Party of the Hungarian Coalition (SMK)) had appealed for a boycott of this referendum believing that it was "unjust and dishonest". Amongst the electorate who did vote most, 86.78%, said that they were in favour of early general elections versus 11.93% who voted against.

Thanks to the reforms undertaken by Mikulas Dzurinda's government, Slovakia, a country that was far behind in terms of economic development in the 1990's, is now the "star pupil" amongst the candidate countries. The country has attracted a number of investors who particularly appreciate the tax regime and low cost of wages. However for the local population the reforms have been synonymous to a rise in prices, notably of those of basic products, energy and healthcare services and of the upkeep of a high unemployment rate (16.5% of the working population in February 2004). Via the vote or rather the lack of it the Slovaks have demonstrated, that although they are suffering from the reforms undertaken, they believe them to be necessary and do not seem to believe than another government could behave differently.

The next general elections will therefore take place in 2006.

Although Mikulas Dzurinda can be satisfied with the confidence that the electorate have granted him again with a majority of them refusing to vote in the referendum, he might be disappointed with the surprise elimination of his candidate, the Foreign Affairs Minister, Edward Kukan, during the first round of the presidential election. The government coalition candidate who had been declared favourite by the opinion polls won 22.10% of the vote and seems to have suffered due to the calls to boycott the referendum and the weak mobilisation that followed. Indeed only 47.94% of the Slovaks voted during the first round of the election. Grigori Meseznikov, president of the Institute for Public Affairs, maintains that "40% of Edward Kukan's supporters did not turn out to vote". Although the Foreign Affairs minister failed to mobilise the voters in the first round such was the not the case with Vladimir Meciar who easily took the lead winning 32.74% of the vote. He is followed by Ivan Gasparovic (Movement for Democracy, HZD), his former right-hand man and also former President of the National Council of the Republic (Parliament) from 1994 to 1998. The former who had the support of the SMER party won 22.28% of the vote. Ivan Gasparovic had left the political scene in September 2002 after his movement failed to rise above the 5% threshold to be represented in Parliament in the last general elections on 20th and 21st September. 2002.

The former boxing amateur, father of Slovak independence and leader of the first opposition movement in Parliament therefore achieved a result far superior to that predicted by the opinion polls (Vladimir Meciar was credited with around 24% of the vote). The former Prime Minister of Slovakia (almost uninterrupted between 1990 and 1998) once again succeeded in mobilising his voters, who are to be found mostly in the country's poor and rural regions. The irony is that at one time he was the leading opposition figure to the European Union but if elected he will have to supervise the first years of his country's entry into the EU and NATO. Vladimir Meciar has promised to transform Slovakia into the Switzerland of Central Europe.

Western leaders, who rose up on several occasions against the authoritarian positions taken up by the former Prime Minister, will certainly not be pleased with the election of Vladimir Meciar as head of Slovakia but they need not be too worried since the powers of the Slovak President are limited - he cannot really oppose his government's decisions since the presidential veto can easily be annulled by a second vote in Parliament.

We should remember that it was the first time that Slovaks voted in two electoral consultations on the same day, contrary to tradition and as it is also the case in the Czech Republic, whereby the electorate would vote over two days, between Friday at 1pm and Saturday 1pm.

Vladimir Meciar starts out as the main favourite in the second round of the election that is due to take place on 17th April next. Nevertheless the leader of the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia continues to be a major source of antipathy on the part of many Slovaks that might not play in his favour.

Referendum Results in Slovakia 3rd April 2004

Participation : 35.86% (the referendum has therefore been declared void)

Source: Agence France Presse

Results of the first round of the presidential election in Slovakia, 3rd April 2004

Participation : 47.94%

Source: Agence France Presse

The five other candidates (Jan Kralik, Josef Kalman, Stanislav Bernat, Josef Sestak and Julius Kubik) won less than 1% of the vote
Publishing Director: Pascale JOANNIN
The authors
Corinne Deloy
Author of the European Elections Monitor (EEM) for the Robert Schuman Foundation and project manager at the Institute for Political Studies (Sciences Po).
Fondation Robert Schuman
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