21/03/2009 - Analysis - 1st round
The Slovakians are being called to ballot on 21st March next in the first round of the presidential election. On 23rd January last the present President of the Republic Ivan Gasparovic announced his decision to run for a second term in office as head of State.
If no candidate wins the absolute majority or if one of them wins without having collated the vote of at least half of the voters registered a second round will take place on 4th April. The State will spend 9.5 million € in the organisation of this election and the candidates are not allowed to spend more than 132,755 € each for their campaign. In addition to this several of them have criticised the electoral law with regard to the length of the presidential campaign (2 weeks) which in their opinion is too short.
The Presidential Function
The President of the Slovakian Republic has little power. Elected for five years, he is the head of the armed forces; he negotiates and ratifies international agreements, promulgates laws and can grant amnesties.
Any candidate running for the supreme office has to present 15,000 citizens' signatures or those of 15 MPs who support his candidature.
7 people are running for the presidential office:
- Ivan Gasparovic, outgoing President of the Republic, supported by Direction-Social Democracy (SMER-SD) and the National Party (SNS), members of the present government;
- Iveta Radicova, sociologist, former Labour, Social Affairs and Family Minister (2005-2006) and rightwing opposition candidate, Democratic and Christian Union (SDKU);
- Milan Melnik, a university professor, who has the support of the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (LS-HZDS), a party which is member of the present government;
- Frantisek Miklosko, former MP supported by the extra-parliamentary party, the Conservative Democrats of Slovakia (KDS);
- Dagmar Bollova, former Communist Party MP (KSS);
- Zuzana Martinakova, leader of the extra-parliamentary group Free Forum (SF);
- Milan Sidor, Communist Party candidate (KSS).
The Electoral Campaign
Outgoing president Ivan Gasparovic has chosen to highlight the role he has played as Head of State during his time in office. He recalls that he has been able to adopt a neutral position and work with governments which lie on opposition ends of the political scale (the rightwing government led by Mikulas Dzurinda, Democratic and Christian Union, SDKU and the present government which lies to the left, led by Robert Fico, Direction-Social Democracy, SMER-SD) and that he has worked toward a consensus on major issues. "I am convinced that I still have the strength and many ideas that can help Slovakia both domestically and abroad. Slovakia is considered to a certain decisive political point an open country," he said saying that he would not undertake a "major campaign".
Mid-February the Head of State gave a surprise speech to the nation before Parliament (he announced that he was going to do this just a few hours prior to addressing the Parliament); in his speech he re-iterated his support of the social reforms implemented by the Robert Fico's government whom he congratulated on his management of the economic crisis. Ivan Gasparovic also criticised the liberal views of some economists and the effect of the reform on the healthcare system undertaken by the previous government led by Mikulas Dzurinda. Many opposition members criticised the President for using Parliament as an electoral stand. After the speech former Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar, Ivan Gasparovic's unfortunate rival in the previous presidential election on 3rd and 17th April 2004 questioned the Head of State's physical and mental health.
Opposition candidate (SKDU) Iveta Radicova appears to be Ivan Gasparovic's most serious challenger in this presidential election.
A controversy brought her up against Prime Minister Robert Fico who was quick to say that she was "the author of the dirtiest political methods", firstly because of her work with the previous Labour, Social Affairs and Family Minister (2002-2005), Ludovit Kanik, then when she succeeded him. The Head of Government said that Iveta Radicova became minister by purchasing the votes of several opposition MPs who sat in the ruling coalition at the time (rallying the Democratic and Christian Union, SKDU, the Christian Democratic Movement KDH and the Hungarian Coalition Party SMK, led by Mikulas Dzurinda – this has been confirmed by former Justice Minister Daniel Lipsic (KDH). In response Iveta Radicova said that she took responsibility for her acts and that she had nothing to hide. She said that the presidential campaign should focus more on the present rather than the past. "Iveta Radicova cannot say that she has a clear conscience. I shall repeat it as often as necessary: she took participation in and took advantage of the corruption of certain MPs," insisted Robert Fico.
The opposition candidate has been shown no mercy since she has been criticised by a group of seven Catholic priests about her support of abortion. "Although the representatives of the Church do not understand my work I respect their opinion but they must be aware they are interfering in the presidential campaign," declared Iveta Radicova who stressed that "a person's values are not reflected in his/her speeches but in their acts." The Conference of Bishops has distanced itself from the priests' letter and said that it did not want to interfere in the electoral campaign. Finally former Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda said that "Iveta Radicova was not only a good candidate but also a female politician with respectable values."
In power since June 2006 Direction-Social Democracy is still the most popular political party in Slovakia. Two facts explain this phenomenon: Slovakia is the country in Central Europe with the highest economic growth rate and the Prime Minister leads a wide ranging government coalition, since apart from Robert Fico's leftwing party, it also rallies the far right National Party and the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (led by former Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar). The adoption of the euro is a perfect symbol of Robert Fico's success who has been able to use pragmatism and populism to assert himself.
GDP growth, which rose to 6% last year, is due to slow in a country which is specialised in the car and electronics' industry, sectors that are suffering at present (industrial production fell by 16.8% in one year) and where unemployment remains high. Prime Minister Robert Fico set up a Council to manage the economic crisis and said that employment and buying power were his government's main priorities; he stressed that the latter was going to devote 365.1 million € to social programmes. This money would come from a budgetary surplus as well as from private and European funds.
According to a poll by MVK Ivan Gasparovic should be re-elected as President of the Republic in the first round (if he wins an absolute majority of the votes) with 55% of the vote. He is said to be running ahead of Iveta Radicova who is due to win 32.6%. Frantisek Miklosko is due to win 4.6% of the vote, Zuzana Martinakova, 4.5% and Milan Melnik, 1.7%. The other two candidates are due to win under 1% of the vote.
The electoral campaign will officially start on 6th March next.
Source: Central Election Commission of Slovakia