THE LOVE of voters is all Prime Minister Robert Fico needs to throw his hat into the presidential ring, or so it seems. But the situation around the presidential bid of Fico, leader of the Smer party and the first prime minister in Slovakia’s post-revolutionary history to run the country without so much as a worry about a coalition partner, is far from this simple. It is much more complicated for Fico, Smer and people who pull the country’s political strings. Above all it is a complicated issue for the Slovak public, which has not had much luck when picking its presidents.
Voting for the ‘lesser evil’ is nothing new for the Slovak public, which had to do so to prevent controversial three-time prime minister Vladimír Mečiar from moving into the presidential palace. In 1999, this was certainly his top aspiration after he and his Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) were thrown out of power the year before. Five years later in 2004, Mečiar made another attempt, only to be defeated by his former right-hand-man Ivan Gašparovič, who incidentally owes his first term as president fully to Mečiar.

Slovakia indeed missed out on a chance to have the first female as well as a decent president, when 55.53 percent of the voters preferred Gašparovič, who was massively supported by Smer, over his challenger and future prime minister Iveta Radičová, who nevertheless collected 988,808 votes in a second round run-off.

There has never been a lack of presidential wannabees. Next year, for example, there will be at least a dozen people competing for a five-year lease on the presidential palace. Still, the main question for many is whether Fico is to be one of the contenders.

There are several problems with a Fico presidency should he run and then eventually win. The biggest of these is that he would likely never fully move out from the prime ministerial office. The ruling Smer already firmly controls the government, and has a speaker in a parliament controlled by the party. If Fico gets the keys to the presidential palace, it would be hard to pretend that it were any more than a one party political system.

“We are not obliged to apologise to anyone for our victory in the elections in 2012,” Fico said on December 7 by means of addressing such concerns.

He has argued that the president considerably contributes to the stability in the state, while suggesting that “harmony between the president, the speaker of parliament and the prime minister is the basis of such stability”. For many, the word stability would have a negative connotation in this context.

It’s true, Slovakia’s presidency is far from muscular when it comes to its constitutional authority, except that some of those stings can make the life of a ruling party occasionally bitter.

The president can veto laws, at minimum forcing parliament to reconsider and vote on a bill again. Gašparovič has been very passionate about this power, actually extending it by refusing to appoint a legally chosen general prosecutor, and leading some to claim that the authority of the president was being artificially inflated.

If there is such ‘flexibility’ in what a president can do, and little the public can do about it supposing he or she has the support of the prime minister and the Constitutional Court – as might be the case with Fico – then the presidential office is no longer as toothless as some might have thought.

Indeed it is not unrealistic to foresee Fico being inspired by Russia’s model, where the prime minister easily metamorphoses into the president and vice versa, thus prolonging the political-life-span of a single politician for decades.

Being so powerful for so long is unhealthy for one’s mental health and few have survived without long-term negative effects.

Some have wishfully said that perhaps if Fico gets elected as president, Smer would actually weaken and lose some of its support. The only problem with this assumption is that it would only work under the condition that Fico would be an impartial president, a president for all, not only for Smer loyalists.

There are, or course, scenarios in which Fico runs and loses. That would indeed bring about a balance of power in Slovakia, forcing other parties to actually do some work besides dealing with their petty ambitions. Current events show they are unready to do so, but at minimum Fico’s hesitation over declaring his candidacy is a good sign.