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Slovakia - Presidential Election

Surprise victory by Ivan Gasparovic over Vladimir Meciar in the presidential election

Surprise victory by Ivan Gasparovic over Vladimir Meciar in the presidential election

17/04/2004 - Results - 2nd round

To everyone's surprise Ivan Gasparovic (Movement for Democracy, HZD) came out well ahead of Vladimir Meciar (Movement for a Democratic Slovakia, HZDS) during the second round of the presidential election on 17th April. Ivan Gasparovic won 59.91% of the vote versus 40.09% for his rival. The participation rate rose to 43.5% and seems to have played against Vladimir Meciar. Indeed in spite of a call to boycott the second round by three of the four parties (the Hungarian Coalition Party, SMK left their electorate open to choose) in the government coalition led by Mikulas Dzurinda (Slovak Democratic and Christian Union, SDKU), many voters turned out to oust the former Prime Minister from the presidential post. On the eve of the election all analysts agreed that a low participation rate would be in Vladimir Meciar's favour, since he had a loyal, disciplined electorate. "If the participation rate drops below 30% we have no chance," maintained Ivan Gasparovic's campaign director, Jan Bilek just a few days ago. "Those who don't vote are voting for Vladimir Meciar," added Robert Fico, the leader of SMER (Direction).

The former Prime Minister, who was declared favourite in the second round due to the wide margin won on 3rd April (+ 10.47 points), failed in his second attempt to reach the supreme State office. Ivan Gasparovic already caused a stir in the first round when he beat the main favourite in the presidential election, Foreign Affairs Minister Edward Kukan, who had the support of Mikulas Dzurinda's government coalition, by 3,644 votes. "The margin with which Ivan Gasparovic won is really a surprise. It is surprising that people turned out against Vladimir Meciar in favour of a man who had worked closely with him for many years,", declared Michal Vasecka, a political specialist from the Institute for Public Affairs in Bratislava. Ivan Gasparovic finally managed to convince people during his electoral campaign that he was different from Vladimir Meciar and to rally a great number of voters who were against the election of the former Prime Minister. "I am not controversial, I know how to listen and accept others' opinions. I try not to be authoritarian," declared Ivan Gasparovic who also acknowledged some of his past mistakes. These declarations earned him an attack on the part of Vladimir Meciar during a TV debate that brought the two men together just before the second round. "You ingratiate yourself and then you insult people," said the former Prime Minister accusingly to his one time right-hand man.

The victory snatched by Ivan Gasparovic, who says he is centre left on the political scale, is also that of Robert Fico, leader of the SMER (Direction) party that supported the Movement for Democracy Party candidate from the onset. This is a welcome victory after the failure of the referendum on 3rd April on the holding of early general elections that was also largely supported by the populist leader.

Sixty-three year old Ivan Gasparovic, professor of law and author of the Slovak Constitution, will succeed Rudolf Schuster on 15th June to become for a five year period the second President of the Republic elected by direct universal suffrage since the country's independence in 1993. Between 1992 and 1998, he was president of the National Council of the Republic, the single Chamber of Parliament; this was a time when he became Vladimir Meciar's right-hand man, the then Prime Minister. "I am not ashamed of the work I did within the HZDS that was good for Slovaks and Slovakia," repeated Ivan Gasparovic during the campaign. The two men broke off relations in 2002 – Vladimir Meciar's decision not to enrol his colleague on the lists in view of the general elections on 20th and 21st September 2002 being the origin of the dispute.

When the results were announced Ivan Gasparovic declared that he would look for a middle ground with Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda. "Working with the Prime Minister Dzurinda and the President of Parliament Pavol Hrusovsky will not always be easy but for the good of the Slovaks we must work together so that relations are peaceful."

Contrary to the campaign during the last general election in September 2002 Western countries did not intervene in between the two rounds to convince the Slovaks of preventing the election of Vladimir Meciar – the limited powers enjoyed by the President helped to allay their fears. Visibly the Slovaks themselves were, in their majority, afraid of seeing a return by the former Prime Minister to the forefront of the political scene and saw in Ivan Gasparovic a lesser evil for the country thereby following the advice of the former President (1994-1998), Michal Kovac, who had demanded that Vladimir Meciar withdraw from the Presidential race. "If he refuses to stand down the country's interest demand that Ivan Gasparovic be elected President," he maintained. "The results of this presidential election represent a democratic confirmation of Slovak society and its orientation towards Europe," emphasised the Slovakian European Commissioner Jan Figel at the end of the election.

Results of the second round of the Slovakian presidential election 17th April 2004

Participation rate: 43.5%

Source : Central Slovakian Electoral Commission
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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