On Saturday 29 March Slovakia held the second round of presidential election. After Prime Minister Robert Fico had still emerged as the winner of the first round, he was now clearly defeated by independent candidate Andrej Kiska. As Kiska lacks both political experience and a support base in parliament, conflicts between the president and other institutions appear to be inevitable.
Robert Fico’s bad performance in the first round had already come as a surprise as all polling firms had predicted at least a 10% lead for the Prime Minister. No polls for the second round were made public, yet the fact that candidates from the political right (including Kiska) claimed the majority of the vote in the first round made Kiska’s victory over Fico (leader of of the leftist SMER-SD) more likely.
The two weeks leading up to Saturday’s election were largely characterised by Fico’s aggressive and negative campaigning. He and his team repeatedly raised accusations that Kiska was a member of (or had at least close contact to) Scientology in a bid to win over conservative voters and tried to shed doubt on Kiska’s business success. At the same time, Fico tried to present himself as an internationally recognised and experienced candidate with the backing of Czech president Zeman, French president Hollande and European Parliament speaker Schulz to highlight Kiska’s lack of political experience. He even tried to increase his appeal with ethnic Hungarian voters by putting up bilingual billboards. However, in 2009 Fico and his then-coalition partner, the far-right Slovak National Party (SNS), had mobilised voters to elect president Ivan Gašparovič for a second term by telling them ‘not to let the Hungarians elect their president’. It is therefore questionable how successful this move was but it can defintely be interpreted as a sign of desperation on Fico’s part.
Andrej Kiska, an entrepreneur and philantropist, on the other hand stayed relatively uncontroversial. The direct confrontation with Fico in several TV debates demonstrated that he is less eloquent than the experienced Prime Minister, yet this might have rather added to his appeal as a true outsider (previous presidents Schuster and Gašparovič had officially run as independent candidates yet were both still leaders of their own parties during the campaign). Kiska also managed to receive the official (albeit less than whole-hearted) backing of the third- and fourth-placed candidates from the first round, Radoslav Procházka and Milan Kňažko.
In the end, the second round drew 290,000 (7%) more voters to the polls, yet it was mostly Kiska who profited from this. He could almost triple his absolute number of votes, whereas Fico failed to even double his number of votes from the first round. Fico only received a majority of votes in the strongholds of his party SMER-SD, yet these electoral districts also tended to be those with the lowest turnout.
The question is now how – to use one of Kiska’s campaign slogans – ‘the first independent president’ will change the politics of the presidential office once he is inaugurated on 15 June. At the moment, a scenario similar to the clashes and conflicts between president Schuster and Prime Minister Dzurinda in 1999-2004 seems most likely. Even though Schuster had been the government candidate, he cut all ties with his party (which participated in the government until 2002) and started to challenge the government and almost every occasion. Lacking a parliamentary support base (and thus bargaining weight vis-a-vis parliament and government), Schuster soon became isolated and resorted to his veto power with unprecedented frequency.
Kiska faces similar problems: He has never held a political office before and maintains no affiliation with any party. While the latter might allow him to garner support from a wider range of right-of-centre parties, the fragmentation of the political right in Slovakia will make it difficult for him to build alliances. Given the limited powers of the Slovak presidency, Kiska will have problems to implement his electoral promises and is thus limited to highlight his policy positions by returning bills to the assembly where – at least until the 2016 parliamentary elections – his vetoes will inevitably be overturned by the absolute majority of Fico’s SMER-SD government.
More information about the elections is available on the website of the Slovak Statistical Office (in English): http://prezident2014.statistics.sk/Prezident-dv/home-en.html