EVEN IF he fails to take a majority of votes during the first round of balloting on March 15, few doubt that Prime Minister Robert Fico will make it to the race’s second-round run-off. If a recent poll that showed Fico is supported by 40 percent of voters is any indication, a second-round test is likely and could prove tough with three of the 15 record candidates running for the office having already pledged to endorse any rival facing Fico in the second round.

Though official campaigning begins only on February 28, billboards with images of the candidates have drawn public attention for weeks, in some cases months, as contenders seek to shower criticism on Fico.

“Since we are talking about a politician who polarises Slovak society and does not have any relevant counter-balance, it is natural that the candidates are defining their attitudes first of all towards him,” political analyst Juraj Marušiak from the Slovak Academy of Sciences (SAV) told The Slovak Spectator. “Of course the negative campaign might hit back to some candidates, mainly by them losing their own identity if they are unable to define their candidacy positively.”

Political scientist Miroslav Kusý agreed.

“Fico undoubtedly is the number one candidate and every other candidate must confront him,” he said.

The poll

Some 40 percent of respondents said they would vote for Fico in a poll prepared by the Focus polling agency for the public service Slovak Television and Radio (RTVS). Philanthropist Andrej Kiska scored a distant second with 13 percent in the poll, followed by Milan Kňažko, one of the leaders of the Velvet Revolution, with 11.8 percent and Pavol Hrušovský, one-time chairman of the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), with 8.2 percent, according to the public-service broadcaster RTVS. The survey polled opinions between January 15 and 20.

Radoslav Procházka, a former KDH member, received 7.7 percent support, followed by Ordinary People and Independent Personalities (OĽaNO) deputy Helena Mezenská with 5.5 percent and Gyula Bárdos, the candidate of the Party of Hungarian Community (SMK), with 5.3 percent. Former KDH chairman and one-time PM Ján Čarnogurský came in with 4.3 percent. Two candidates, cardio-surgeon Viliam Fischer and Peter Osuský of Freedom and Solidarity (SaS), collected slightly more than 1 percent of the votes: 1.8 percent and 1.1 percent respectively, while the rest of the candidates failed to pick up even one percent of the votes of the 1,010 polled respondents.

“I believe I can garner enough votes,” Kiska told the Sme daily, adding that he believes that people want independent and non-partisan candidates.

Fico will win the first round and will lose the second, Kňažko speculated for Sme, adding that the rule of “narrowly partisan interests” should be prevented in Slovakia. Hrušovský said that he will do his best to persuade people that Slovakia needs an experienced president and “not an experiment where one person will rule over everything”.

When addressed by Sme, Procházka said that he received a positive response to his candidacy from people in the field and that in the elections these people, not PR managers, will decide.

Čarnogurský said he was taken aback by the results of the poll and blamed the methodology of the survey, calling it “extraordinarily imprecise” and misleading to a certain degree, according to Sme. He objected that the names of candidates were read in alphabetical order over the phone to the respondents, putting candidates at the beginning of the list at a significant disadvantage.

Kiska, Kňažko and Procházka, according to Sme, agreed that if any two of them fail to make it to the run-off round, that they will not only endorse the candidate who faces Fico, but also donate their respective billboard spaces to the run-off candidate.

The candidates

Also among the candidates are Jozef Šimko, mayor of Rimavská Sobota, Jozef Behýl, who is active in the non-profit sector, Ján Jurišta, a former ambassador to Argentina, businessman Stanislav Martinčko and scientist Milan Melník.

Marušiak suggested that some of the so-called civic candidates surprised him by what he called “their naive understanding of the position of the president” but also “latent racism and an inclination toward the politics of extremism”.

Marušiak was taken aback by the fact that the right-wing parties of the so-called People’s Platform nominated whom he called “the unexpressive [Pavol] Hrušovský”, while Helena Mezenská caught his attention with her bizarre, social network driven campaign.

Mezenská, who emphasises the idea of traditional family, suggested that political parties will disappear. She also suggested that Slovakia should re-evaluate membership in the European Union as well as NATO.

Kusý finds the presence of three Christian Democratic candidates – Hrušovský, Čarnogurský and Procházka – peculiar. They all originated as politicians from the KDH.

“The three Christian Democratic candidates seem to be eliminating each other,” Kusý told The Slovak Spectator. “It seems counterproductive to me that one ideological platform stages three candidates and that they were unable to find an agreement [on one candidate].”

For Kusý, Kiska and Kňažko are the prominent candidates, even though “the difference between them and other candidates [in the poll] is not that large”.

The discourse

Some candidates have promised changes even in areas that an elected president in Slovakia could not possibly influence. Political scientists suggest that the candidates should address issues that are directly linked to the presidency.

The current wording of the Constitution does not grant strong authorities to the president, noted Marušiak, adding that though the president is elected in a public vote, he has limited room for manoeuvring if he is unable to rely on the government and a parliamentary majority.

“Thus the candidates should explain how they envision cooperation with the existing government and parliamentary majority,” Marušiak told The Slovak Spectator.

According to Marušiak, the candidates should also explain what foreign-policy line they plan to pursue and what would be the added value of their operation as presidents.

Kusý agrees that the candidates first of all should share their vision for the presidential post and what they consider realistic in terms of what they can do as presidents. The candidates are “often promising something that they as future presidents cannot influence at all, but the voters often do not know that these are empty promises”, he said.

According to Kusý, it depends on the voters, their political culture, whether they are able to see through these fake promises. He also expects such campaigning to continue.

Radka Minarechová contributed to this story