18/02/2014 - Analysis - 1st round
On 15th March the Slovakians are being called to ballot for the first round of the presidential election. 14 people are running i.e. more than ever registered in the country before. The Constitution does not allow the present head of State Ivan Gasparovic, in office since 17th April 2004 and who has already undertaken two mandates, from running again Prime Minister Robert Fico (Direction-Social Democracy, SMER-SD), the country's strong man, announced that he would be running on 18th December. The main favourite in this election, he might however encounter problems in the second round of voting if he does not succeed in asserting his position in the first round. If none of the candidates wins more than 50% of the vote on 15th March a second round will take place on 29th March.
The role of the President and the candidates
The President of the Republic enjoys little power. Elected for five year he is the commander in chief 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 collate at least 15,000 voters' signatures or those of a minimum of 15 MPs who support him.
14 people are official candidates:
– Robert Fico Direction-Social Democracy (SMER-SD), present Prime Minister;
– Pavol Hrusovsky, supported by the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) - a party he led from 2000 to 2009 - the Democratic and Christian Union - Democratic Party (SDKU-DS) and Most-Hid (which means "bridge") former leader of the National Council of the Republic (Narodna rada Slovenskej republiky
), the only chamber in Parliament;
– Gyula Bardos, the first personality from the Hungarian minority (10% of the population) ever to stand for this position;
– Jan Carnogursky, independent, former Prime Minister of Slovakia (1991-1992) and former leader of the Christian Democratic Movement (1990-2000);
– Milan Knazko, former Culture and Foreign Minister. He was also one of the leaders of the 1989 revolution which led to the fall of the Communist system;
– Andrej Kiska, philanthropist, founder of the Angel of Charity society;
– Radoslav Prochazka, former member of the Christian Democratic Movement, deputy leader of the National Council of the Republic, lawyer and university professor, creator of the forum for reflection, Alfa;
– Helena Mezenska (Party of Ordinary People and Independents, OL'aNO);
– Viliam Fischer, heart surgeon;
– Milan Melnik, scientist;
– Jozef Behyl, independent, humanitarian;
– Stanislav Martincko, supported by the Coalition of the Citizens of Slovakia;
– Jozef Simko (Party of Modern Slovakia, SMS), Mayor of Rimavska Sobota, a town in the region of Banska Bystrica;
– Jan Jurista, (Communist Party, KSS), former ambassador.
Radoslav Prochazka's priorities are the reorganisation of the institutions, the replacement of the leaders of the Constitutional Court and the introduction of an assessment of government action. "Slovakia needs a strong president who can take on board the people's needs and interests," he declared. He also wants part of the civil service to move from the capital of Bratislava to the regions of Kosice and Banska Bystrica.
Philanthropist Andrej Kiska said that "Slovakia needs an independent president who is experienced and not someone who is dominating," alluding to the Prime Minister Robert Fico.
Milan Knazko believes that by standing for the supreme office Robert Fico is abandoning his electorate; he has chosen to "desert his post as Prime Minister because he cannot honour his promises," he indicated. He maintained that if he is elected he would refuse to sign any law that aimed to increase taxation.
Robert Fico's Wager
The Prime Minister who has chosen Pripraveny pre Slovensko
(Ready for Slovakia) as his slogan has the support of 83 MPs of his party as well as outgoing President Ivan Gasparovic. By standing in the Presidential election Robert Fico has launched a real wager. Indeed if he does not win the election in the first round he might find it hard to win on 29th March against a rival who might succeed in rallying all of the head of government's opponents to his name.
The leader of the Christian-Democratic Movement, Jan Figel also said that 2014 might be the political end for Robert Fico. He recalled that former Prime Minister (1993-1994 and 1994-1998) Vladimir Meciar (Movement for a Democratic Slovakia, HZDS) had also tried to be elected as the Head of State on two occasions (1999 and 2004).
Three reasons might explain why the Prime Minister wants to occupy the supreme office. Firstly Robert Fico seems to be the only possible candidate for his party. No other personality seems to be capable of winning the election. Secondly the Prime Minister is depending on the support of the National Council of the Republic to stay in power. He might as a result of this lose his post in the next general elections forecast for the spring of 2016. If he becomes head of State he would be guaranteed power for the next five years. Victory for the head of government in the election on 15th and 29th March would certainly lead to the "presidentialisation" of Slovakia, a country where the head of State enjoys little power and has no control over the political agenda.
Undoubtedly Robert Fico has watched the career of his neighbour Milos Zeman closely (Citizens' Rights Party, SPO), elected as head of the Czech Republic on 26th January 2013. The first Czech head of State to be elected by direct universal suffrage Milos Zeman has greater powers than his predecessors. On several occasions he has shown that he wants to influence political life to the point of him being criticised for his authoritarian style.
The Prime Minister indicated that he would not resign as head of government before the presidential election. He will not fail to use his present power during the electoral campaign.
Robert Fico's participation and his possible victory raises the issue of the succession as head of his party and government. There are several likely candidates to replace him including the present leader of the Council of the Republic, Pavol Paska, Home Affairs Minister Robert Kalinak and Culture Minister Marek Madaric.
Direction-Social Democracy has governed Slovakia since the general election on 10th March 2012. It was the first party to win an absolute majority in the general elections since independence in 1993. The west and the north of the country are the Prime Minister's bastions. The latter stands as the representative of the people and of the poorest Slovakians. He is popular because of his social policy: indeed he has always refused - including at the height of the economic crisis - to reduce retirement pensions and social benefits. In January 2013, he also abolished the flat tax rate of 19% on VAT, income and businesses raising taxes on the latter to 23%. Slovakia experienced growth of 1% in 2013 and 1.8% in 2012.
Many analysts and politicians point to the threat that Robert Fico's victory brings to the balance of power. Direction-Social Democracy controls the government and also most of the regions (6 out of 8).
"We do not have to apologise for winning the general elections on 10th March 2012" declared the Prime Minister who also maintained that harmony between the president of the Republic, Parliament and the head of government were the basis of the country's stability which he would like to embody and strengthen. "The head of State must unite the country if the Prime Minister is dividing it," indicated Robert Fico. An alliance between the head of State and government, notably regarding the country's foreign policy (the Prime Minister wants to represent Slovakia in the European Council) is vital in Robert Fico's eyes who stresses that none of the other 13 candidates seems interested in dialogue with the government.
"Robert Fico is transforming the presidential election into a referendum over whether the Slovakians want just one person to govern Slovakia,
" indicated Matus Kostolny, editor in chief of the daily SME.
According to the polls most of Direction-Social Democracy's followers want to Robert Fico to remain as Prime Minister.
A divided right
The Slovakian right is extremely divided, which political expert Miroslav Kusy believes will continue and become more acute. It did not learn from its defeat in the general elections in March 2012. The right also suffered greatly in the Gorilla Affair, the name of the Slovakian secret service operation which came to light in December 2011 after the publication of secret documents on-line revealing telephone conversations dating back to 2005 and 2006 (a time when the right was in office) which highlighted the links between the political and business communities.
More than two years later the parties on the right have not succeeded in improving their image. Recently Lucia Zitnanska, former deputy leader of the Christian and Democratic Union-Democratic Party, Miroslav Beblavy and Magdalena Vasaryova left their part and founded "Let's create Slovakia", a structure they qualify as "a political project."
Jozef Kollar, Martin Chren and Juraj Droba left Liberty and Solidarity with two former ministers from Iveta Radicova's government (2010-2012) - Juraj Miskov and Daniel Krajcer - and joined a new party NOVA, created by two former members of the Christian Democratic Movement, Daniel Lipsic and Jana Zitnanska. 75 other members of the rightwing party - including one third of its regional authorities, joined them.
Finally the Party of Ordinary People and Independents also lost two representatives: Alojz Hlina and Maria Ritomska.
However beyond the rightwing the entire political class was affected and its image damaged. The Slovakians do not trust their elites and are showing it.
The Christian-Democratic Movement, Democratic and Christian Union-Democratic Party and Most Hid have rallied together to form the People's Platform founded on shared values after the message issued on 17th November which celebrates the Velvet Revolution (nezna revolucia) of 1989 which led to the fall of the communist system in Czechoslovakia. These three parties failed however to appoint a candidate for the presidential election.
The Christian Democratic Movement and Most Hid support Pavol Hrusovsky but the Democratic and Christian Union-Democratic Party rejected this proposal. The party led by Pavol Freso supports former Prime Minister (2010-2012) Iveta Radicova whilst even she has declared that she did not want to take part in the election. According to the polls the former Prime Minister was the only one capable of beating Robert Fico in March.
For its part Liberty and Solidarity appointed its representative Peter Osusky on 11th June 2013 as its candidate in the presidential election before he relinquished at the beginning of February.
Three presidential election candidates - Jan Carnogursky, Pavol Hrusovsky and Radoslav Prochazka - are from the Christian-Democratic Movement. The latter two are, along with Milan Knazko and Andrej Kiska, believed to be the main challengers to Prime Minister Robert Fico.
Jan Baranek, a political expert from the agency Polis indicated that the fact that Gyula Bardos and Jan Carnogursky were standing weakened Pavol Hrusovsky position. In his opinion some of Most Hid's supporters will vote for a candidate from the Hungarian minority and that many close to the Democratic and Christian Union-Democratic Party will vote for Jan Carnogursky. Moreover according to the polls Pavol Hrusovsky will win half of the votes of the supporters of the Christian-Democratic Movement whilst 90% of the Direction-Social Democracy supporters will vote for Robert Fico on 15th March.
The most recent poll by Median for the radio-TV station RTVS credits Robert Fico with 38.8% of the vote in the first round of the election. He is due to be followed by Andrej Kiska, who is due to win 18.6%, Milan Knazko, 12.9% and Radoslav Prochazka, 9.9%. Pavol Hrusovsky is credited with 5.7%, Helena Mezenska 5.6%, Gyula Bardos 2.6%, Viliam Fischer 2.1% and Jan Carnogursky 1.8%. The four other candidates (Milan Melnik, Jozef Behyl, Jozef Simko and Jan Jurista) are due to win less than 1% of the vote.
The head of government is also the politician the Slovakians believe to be the most serious and most worthy of confidence: 34.7% said this in a poll undertaken by MVK
Source : National Statistics Institute