BRATISLAVA : Prime Minister Robert Fico and millionaire-philanthropist Andrej Kiska will face off March 29 in round two of Slovakia's presidential election after topping Saturday's duel focused on a power grab by Fico's leftists.
Fico, a popular ex-communist, scored 28 percent of the vote in round one, narrowly ahead of political greenhorn Kiska who came out of nowhere to seize 24 percent, official election results said Sunday. "Fico is the winner on paper but Kiska is the real winner here," Marian Lesko, a Bratislava-based analyst said, adding that round two "will be a referendum on Fico".
The prospect of Fico and his Smer-Social Democrats monopolising power has galvanised both politicians and voters in the country of 5.4 million, which joined the EU in 2004. A Fico victory would mean the presidency, parliament and govt will be controlled by the same party for the first time since Slovakia won independence in 1993.
Analysts also warn that Fico, 49, could try to amend the constitution to boost presidential powers and transform the parliamentary system into a presidential one. A Fico win would also trigger a reshuffle in his Smer government, but the party would still control a comfortable 83-seat majority in the 150-member parliament until general elections in 2016.
Analyst Lesko points out that any party member who would fill Fico's shoes as prime minister, "would still view him as their boss". Fico seized on the fact Kiska is a political virgin as he kicked off campaigning Sunday ahead of round two. "You know absolutely everything about me. I stand completely naked in front of the people. Against me stands a candidate you know nothing about," he said. But Kiska, 51, is capitalising on his image as a newcomer untainted by the kind of corruption allegations that have ravaged Slovakia's right wing.
A non-partisan with no communist past, consumer credit tycoon Kiska is seen as having a nose for business and as incorruptible due to the fact that he has given much of his self-made fortune to charity. 0"All voters who supported candidates who did not make it in the first round will have a reason to back Kiska against Fico in the run off," Lesko said, pointing to the third and fourth runners-up who scored 34 percent combined. The move could make Kiska unbeatable.
But analysts also expect heavy turnout in round two by Fico supporters who did not turn up on Saturday because they saw a Fico victory as a given. "Fico has been leading the country for six years and people are not satisfied with his results," Kiska said back on the campaign trail Sunday. "Should a man like that lead the country for another five years?" A veteran leftist, Fico has earned considerable political capital during his years as premier following an anti-austerity agenda tempered by fiscal discipline.
The Slovak economy is set to expand by 2.3 percent this year, driven by its exports of electronics and cars. Bratislava pensioner Karol Janostiak, 75, is backing Fico for his experience and penchant for generous social welfare spending. "I expect him to improve healthcare and education and help push for higher pensions," he told AFP. Kiska's supporters meanwhile believe that with his track record in the consumer credit business, he has proved he understands the market and has economic vision.
"I think the state can profit from his pro-business 'can-do' spirit," Zuzana Magicova, 29, an economist currently on maternity leave from Nitra, western Slovakia, told AFP. Should he win, the centrist Kiska would become the first Slovak president without a communist party past since independence. Both Fico and Kiska label themselves as euro-enthusiasts, so any outcome will likely seal Slovakia's pro-EU foreign policy. The next president will be sworn in on June 15, when leftist President Ivan Gasparovic's second term ends. Turnout Saturday was 43.4 percent, the election commission said.