PUTTING an end to months of speculation, Prime Minister Robert Fico, 49, made plans to run for president next year official during a public ceremony that doubled as a speech reviewing the year and previewing 2014 plans for his government. In announcing his bid, Fico argued that for the sake of stability the country needs a president who would get along well with the Smer government.

“I understand my candidacy as a service to Slovakia,” Fico said on December 18 during his address delivered to media, members of his government, members of parliament and foreign diplomats accredited in Slovakia.

It is a duty of the ruling majority to field a presidential candidate and guarantee political stability in the country, Fico said of his candidacy. Responses to Fico’s decision varied from calling it an “intention to overtake the country”, to the beginning of the end of Smer’s dominance or even a chance for the right-wing to unite against Fico’s presidential ambitions.

Fico argued that he does not see his candidacy as an adventure, escape, or an attempt to culminate his political career. Fico also offered his understanding of the position of president on the political landscape suggesting that the president should never be a counter-balance to the government.

“The president can either cooperate with it [the government] or do harm to it,” he said.

Fico said that none of the announced candidates appear to be interested in a dialogue with the Smer government. The speech served as a launching pad for his campaign, and he stressed that the country’s right-leaning parties are disintegrating, leaving it to his party to guarantee political stability.

Some observers have suggested that for the sake of power balance in the country, the next president should not be close to the ruling party, which already controls the posts of prime minister and speaker of parliament.

Current President Ivan Gašparovič was elected for his second term with the backing of Smer. Gašparovič, shortly after Fico announced his decision, praised Fico for his experience and wide public support, the SITA newswire reported. Gašparovič added it would be bad if someone who has just begun collecting political experience would be elected.

Fico also suggested that he would be true to Slovakia’s traditions while aspiring to be a patriotic president. He pledged that he would support ideas that unify rather than divide.

“I will nurture love for the nation in people,” he said. “We have things to be proud of.”

A recent phone poll by Polis polling agency suggested that 23.9 percent of the respondents wish Fico to run for president as the candidate of the Smer party while 14.3 percent wished to see Foreign Affairs Minister Miroslav Lajčák run instead, SITA reported on December 17.

Fico will be the candidate for his own Smer party, which also controls an outright majority in parliament. In order to qualify for the race, Fico needs 15 signatures by parliamentary deputies or 15,000 signatures of citizens on a petition. He will go with the first option.

“In the moment Robert Fico publicly announced that he wants to be a president, he turned the elections into a referendum with a single question: do you want one single person to rule the country?,” wrote Matúš Kostolný, the editor-in-chief of the Sme daily, in a front-page editorial on December 19.

Political scientist Miroslav Kusý suggested that Fico’s victory is far from being as certain as some might assume: “His chances are problematic. The first round will be clear but the second round is questionable, since the whole opposition would back that [second place] candidate,” SITA reported.

The list of other candidates who have thus far confirmed they will run include Pavol Hrušovský backed by the Christan Democratic Movement (KDH), Most-Híd and the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ); businessman Andrej Kiska, running as an independent candidate; Ján Čarnogurský, a former chair of the KDH; Peter Osuský from Freedom and Solidarity (SaS); independent candidate Radoslav Procházka, lawyer and formerly a member of the KDH; Milan Kňažko, one of the leaders of the Velvet Revolution and a former government official who will run as an independent candidate; Gyula Bárdos of the Hungarian Community Party (SMK). Leonid Chovanec, Jozef Behýl, Milan Melník, Jozef Šimko, Viliam Fischer, Stanislav Martinčko, János Bósza and Ľubica Blašková have also announced their candidacies.

Opposition says it will face Fico

The leader of the opposition KDH, Ján Figeľ, responded to Fico’s announcement that 2014 might become a year with a political breaking point, with the results of presidential elections either a kind of Pyrrhic victory or a personal defeat adding that three-time controversial prime minister Vladimír Mečiar made a similar trial [to get elected president] twice and “we have defeated him repeatedly”, SITA reported.

Meanwhile, the SDKÚ on December 18 announced that it would support Hrušovský, a presidential candidate of the KDH with Figeľ responding that the presidential race will be a fight of socialist left with the right-wing parties and calling the SDKÚ’s decision politically mature.

Most-Híd Chairman Béla Bugár said that Smer is driven by an effort to take over all the constitutional positions in the state suggesting that Fico should give up his prime ministerial post before the actual presidential campaign starts, SITA reported.

“I welcome the prime minister’s candidacy, because it reveals the leitmotif of the presidential election,” Procházka wrote in his official statement reacting to Fico’s announcement. On one side stand efforts for generational and moral renovation of public service in Slovakia, he said, and on the other side stands an attempt of the exhausted political generation of the 1990s to secure their positions in the state forever.

Another presidential candidate, Kňažko, said that Fico is now abandoning his voters and deserted the prime ministerial position “because he was unable to fulfil his promises”. Civic candidate Kiska called on Fico to wage an honest and fair campaign, suggesting that he should shift part of his authorities to one of the deputy prime ministers, SITA reported.

Michaela Terenzani contributed to this report

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