31/03/2009 - D-7 - 2nd round
The Slovakians are being called to vote on 4th April next to decide between the two candidates who took the lead in the first round of the presidential election on 21st March last: the outgoing Head of State, Ivan Gasparovic, who has the support of two of the three government parties – Direction-Social Democracy (SMER-SD) and the National Party (SNS) – and who won 46.71% of the vote and the opposition candidate of the Democratic and Christian Union (SDKU), Iveta Radicova, who won 38.05% of the vote. Just a few days before the vote both candidates are running neck and neck and political observers see no advantage for either one candidate or the other.
Turn-out was low in the first round rising to 43.63% only (-4.31 points in comparison with the first round of the presidential election on 3rd April 2004). The founders of the association Moja Prezidentka Iveta Radicova (My President, Iveta Radicova) have called on the Slovakians to fulfil their civic duty in the second round on 4th April. "We are sad that many of the unfortunate candidates in the first round support the electorate's apathy and are calling on the Slovakians not to vote. These candidates must have forgotten the importance of the vote in the course of history," stressed writer Michal Hvorecky, the association's founder.
The two candidates met in the TV studios on 29th March for a debate. The outgoing President accused Iveta Radicova of having the support of the Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) whose members, he says, are claiming autonomy for the Hungarians living in Slovakia. Ivan Gasparovic recalled that the party was against the establishment of Slovakia in 1993. "The Hungarian Coalition Party was a member of the government coalition for 8 years, none of its leaders ever spoke of autonomy," answered the SDKU candidate. The outgoing leader then reproached her for being the candidate of the celebrities, qualifying himself as a "citizens' candidate".
Voters belonging to the Hungarian minority are mostly due to vote for Iveta Radicova in the second round. "Voters of the Hungarian minority have chosen. Ivan Gasparovic has offended them on many occasions," declared their leader, Pal Csaky adding that he wanted to see these voters, notably those in the districts of Rimavska Sobota, Komarno and Trebisov in which turn-out was low in the first round to take greater part in the voting on 4th April.
The Hungarian minority which represents around 10% of the population is the focus of the campaign between rounds.
National Party leader, Jan Slota, deplored the fact that the votes won by Iveta Radicova came from the districts in which the Hungarian minority is the greatest (south of the country). Vice-President Anna Belousovova accused Ms Radicova of having the support of neighbouring Hungary. "It is unacceptable for these districts and Bratislava dictate the law over the rest of Slovakia," she declared. In response to these accusations Iveta Radicova answered that if the Hungarian media had shown interest in her candidature, the same applied to those in other countries such as France, the UK, the Czech Republic and Austria – with some even showing that they liked the idea of a woman becoming the President of the Republic of Slovakia.
On 27th March hundreds of brochures bearing the photo of Iveta Radicova and the SDKU symbol were published, notably in the towns of Komarno, Galanta and Samorin. In these brochures, written in poor Hungarian, one could read "Dear Hungarians living in Slovakia, if you vote for me and if I am elected I promise you I shall support your claims for autonomy." An enquiry has been launched to find out where the brochures come from. "It is provocation before the second round but I do not know from whom nor from where it comes? You have to be careful, it might all be a trap," declared the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (LU-HZDS) leader and former Prime Minister (1993-1994 and 1994-1998) Vladimir Meciar.
On 30th March the daily newspapers Pravda and Plus jeden published an advert which read "Who do you want as President of the Republic: someone who is ready to promise autonomy to the Hungarian minority in exchange for its support or someone who defends Slovakia's interests?" Anna Belousovova admitted she was the author. "I admit that I wrote this advert. Crucify me for it if you want" she declared. "A head of State who plays the Hungarian card, disturbs the citizens and divides society, is not and cannot be President of the Slovakian Republic," answered Iveta Radicova.
Finally Anna Belousovova attacked Iveta Radicova for having signed the citizens' petition in 1991 in favour of a joint State (between the Czechs and Slovakians). According to the far right leader, the opposition candidate does not have the "moral right" to become President. In answer to these accusations Iveta Radicova recalled that at the time all political parties except for the National Party had looked for solutions that protected the common future of the two populations and indicated that the citizens' petition for a joint State comprised an appeal for the future of Czechoslovakia being decided by the citizens in a referendum. According to the SDKU candidate the programme of the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) in the Czechoslovakian elections in 1992 asked for the maintenance of a common State between the Czechs and the Slovakians – which means that outgoing President, Ivan Gasparovic (who at that time was a member of that party) also supported this solution. "I do not think it normal that someone who was against Slovakia should be running for the presidential office," declared Prime Minister Robert Fico.
The Communist Party (KSS) whose candidate Milan Sidor won 1.11% of the vote in the first round announced its support of Ivan Gasparovic in the second round. "Iveta Radicova is an unacceptable candidate in our opinion," declared the KSS leaders Jozef Hrdlicka on 23rd March referring notably to the laws, which he believes anti-social, which were approved when the opposition candidate was Employment Minister (2005-2006). "We are calling on all of our members and supporters as well as all of those close to the left to vote for Ivan Gasparovic in the second round," he declared.
On 25th March the outgoing President received the support of the Confederation of Unions (KOZ). The Confederation stressed that Ivan Gasparovic had stabilized the political arena and had perfectly defended the interests of the State and the country during his term in office. For his part Prime Minister Robert Fico (SMER-SD) said he was happy with the results of the first round. "Knowing the Slovakian political arena I think that Ivan Gasparovic has every chance of winning on 4th April which would satisfy us totally", he stressed.
The opposition candidate may suffer after the declarations of some members of the Catholic Church which is extremely influential in Slovakia. A scandal blew up before the first round when a group of seven Catholic priests criticized her for her support of abortion. Some accuse Iveta Radicova, a widow for several years now, of living in free-union with a famous artist and of not having made her relationship official via marriage.
Finally the candidate who suspended her membership of the SDKU at the start of the electoral campaign promised to leave the party if she was elected Head of State on 4th April.
Although Novy cas, the most read daily in Slovakia sees Iveta Radicova as the winner of the first round, since she won more votes than she was credited with by the pre-electoral polls, the chances of both candidates are almost equal in the second round.
Free Forum leader (SF), Zuzana Martinakova, and the candidate supported by the Conservative Democrats (KDS), Frantisek Miklosko who won 5.12% and 5.42% respectively in the first round have refused to call to vote for one or the other candidate in the second round. However if Iveta Radicova wins more votes from the supporters of the parties who supported her in the first round outgoing President Ivan Gasparovic, who won a high percentage of votes, did not seem however to win as many votes as he could from those close to Direction-Social Democracy and the National Party.
Hence the suspense is total. The Slovakians living abroad are not allowed to vote in this presidential election and voting may be undertaken early, under certain conditions, in some villages.
Ivan Gasparovic's term in office officially ends on 15th June next.