On Saturday, 15 March, Slovakia held the first round of presidential elections; it is the third presidential election since the country changed from indirect to direct elections in 1999, As expected, none of the 14 candidates came close to a majority of votes and Prime Minister Robert Fico and independent candidate Andrej Kiska, an entrepreneur and philanthropist, will face each other in the second round. Nevertheless, the result can still be seen as surprising and makes predictions about the outcome of the second round even more complicated.
All recent polls had predicted Fico and Kiska to advance to the second round, yet most had seen Fico at 35-38% and thus 9-15% in the lead. The relatively small gap between the two front-runenrs as well as the fact that candidates from the political (centre-) right (Procházka, Kňažko) to which Kiska belongs, appear to make Kiska’s victory more likely. At least one opinion poll – albeit from last December – saw Kiska win again Fico should they compete in a second round of voting.
While the Slovak centre-right has long been fragmented, Procházka as well as the SDKU (whose candidate only received 3.3%) have already declared their support for Kiska. Some further candidates might declare their support for either Kiska or Fico (although the latter’s potential is smaller), but the bigger question is which candidate will able to mobilise more voters. On his blog, Kevin Deegan-Krause shows how different shares of voters staying home or coming to the polls can drastically change the situation and even though most scenarios would see Kiska as Slovakia’s next president, could also lead to Fico’s victory.
During the campaign, Fico has failed to clarify his intentions with regards to the future role of the presidency (see also here). Thus, even voters who would generally vote for Fico’s SMER party (which currently holds 83/150 in the Slovak Parliament) might be deterred by this uncertainty or would rather have Fico continue as Prime Minister. Andrej Kiska, with his campaign slogan ‘The first independent president’, could potentially capitalise on Fico’s vagueness on this point. In his campaign, Kiska also promised to be an active check-and-balance on government and parliament. While he would have difficulties attempting to implement most of his policy promises due to the limited powers of the presidency and the lack of partisan representation in parliament, promising to be more active might resonate well with voters who have been disappointed by outgoing president Gašparovič and his growing closeness to SMER (which either meant large-scale inactivity or the controversial exploitation of constitutional loopholes).
Nevertheless, despite their popular mandate, Slovak presidents since 1999 have not been able to establish themselves as important political players. The continuously low turnout (staying always below participation in parliamentary elections) in presidential elections is evidence of the fact that Slovaks see the contest as a second-order election.
The second round of elections will be held in two weeks on 29 March 2014. Results can be expected from 9pm GMT.