THREE recent polls were enough to convince one presidential candidate to drop out of the race, but have not clarified who might be the main second round challenger for Prime Minister Robert Fico, who led all three surveys with around 40-percent support.

Fico’s four most serious competitors all failed to garner even half the prime minister’s support in the polls, as Peter Osuský, supported by the opposition party Freedom and Solidarity (SaS), dropped out from the race on January 29. The SaS will now support Radoslav Procházka, a former Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) member who is running as a civic candidate.

“The polls show that the right-wing voter is making his choices,” Osuský told the SITA newswire.

Procházka said he values the decision of SaS, adding that he managed to persuade SaS boss Richard Sulík that he could win the presidential elections.

Political analysts keep listing Andrej Kiska, Milan Kňažko, Pavol Hrušovský and Procházka as Fico’s potential challengers in the second round, whose presence there, according to Focus analyst Martin Slosiarik, no one really doubts. Fico could avoid a second round run-off if he took an outright majority of the votes in the first round.

“It is not possible to say, based on the polls, who could face him in the second round,” Slosiarik told The Slovak Spectator, adding that this is a completely different situation from 2009, when right at the beginning two strong candidates emerged: Ivan Gašparovič and Iveta Radičová, while “others were essentially only mutes”.

Following the Focus poll, prepared for the public service Radio and Television of Slovakia (RTVS), in which 40 percent of respondents said they would vote for Fico, on January 26, a poll by the Median polling agency prepared for the RTVS placed Fico with 38.8 percent support. Fico also topped a poll by the MVK polling agency published on January 27 with 40.1 percent.

In the 1,033-respondent Median poll conducted between January 15 and 19, Fico was followed by philanthropist Andrej Kiska with 18.6 percent as compared to his 13 percent in the Focus poll, and key Velvet Revolution figure Milan Kňažko with 12.9 percent and 11.8 percent in the Focus poll. However, the MVK poll had Procházka in second place with 13.6 percent, followed by Kiska with 13.2 percent. Procházka scored 7.7 percent in the Focus poll and 9.9 percent in the Median poll.

Hrušovský, one-time chairman of the KDH, scored 8.2 percent in Focus and 9 percent in the MVK poll, but the Median poll gave him 5.7 percent, only placing him fifth.

According to Focus, Ordinary People and Independent Personalities (OĽaNO) deputy Helena Mezenská would get 5.5 percent and Gyula Bárdos, the candidate of the Party of Hungarian Community (SMK), 5.3 percent. Former chairman of the KDH and one-time PM Ján Čarnogurský came in with 4.3 percent.

Median measured Mezenská at 5.6 percent while the list of those with less than 5 percent of respondents’ votes include Bárdos with 2.6 percent, cardio-surgeon Viliam Fischer with 2.1 percent, Čarnogurský with 1.9 percent and Osuský at 0.6 percent.

MVK had Bárdos at 6.6 percent and Čarnogurský picked 3.1 percent. Mezenská would get 1.5 percent followed by Osuský with 1.3 percent and Fischer with 1.0 percent, SITA reported.
While in November Hrušovský was still listed among the candidates with a chance to make it to the second round, the recent polls do not favour Hrušovský as a second-rounder, while the pollsters suggests that he has taken the heaviest toll from the new candidates, such as Bárdos and Kňažko joining the race.

“It seems to me that with Bárdos joining the presidential race, Hrušovský has lost his chances for the second round,” Slosiarik said.

Ján Baránek of Polis also said that Bárdos is taking votes that otherwise would have gone to Hrušovský. Yet, Čarnogurský is also weakening Hrušovský’s chances among the KDH electorate, said Slosiarik.

Slosiarik also added that while voters from Most-Híd might abandon the KDH candidate to support Bárdos, Kňažko has become for Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) supporters a more interesting candidate than Hrušovský.

Haulík agrees with his colleagues that mostly Bárdos and Kňažko picked off votes from Hrušovský, suggesting that the former chair of the Christian Democrats does not have unambiguous support even among the KDH voters: “If you take that Fico is supported by more than 90 percent of Smer voters, Hrušovský has only slightly more than 50 percent among the KDH voters. Saying that he is a candidate of the People’s Platform now shows some holes.”

Campaigning kick-off

Baránek suggests that the launch of full-scale election campaigning might indeed reshuffle the deck, depending on what campaign the candidates would pick.

“Certainly the whole game is only in its first stage, the official campaign has not started yet and the result is open,” he said.

Slosiarik agrees that the campaign might yet have a say in who might challenge Fico in the second round.

“The differences are not significant and the firmness of the decision that someone is going to vote for Fico is much higher than the firmness of the decision that someone will vote for Kiska, Kňažko or Procházka,” he said.

Pavel Haulík of MVK, however, noted for The Slovak Spectator that “as far as the presidential elections are concerned, there is something which in economics is called volatility, which means that the data could be changing quite fast and significantly because the relationship with the voters is not stable, lasting and firm”.

According to Haulík, this relationship is being formed only shortly before the elections “and there several smaller things, perhaps some emotions might decide”.

Voter turnout

Slosiarik estimates voter turnout will be about 50 percent, suggesting that the campaign, having in mind debates broadcast by the radio or television stations rather than billboards, itself might increase people’s interest.

Baránek assumes that the turnout will be higher in the second round since there is the assumption that Fico will advance and thus a more dramatic competition is expected.

“As far as the first round is concerned, I estimate the turnout maximally at the level of parliamentary elections [59.11 percent],” Baránek said.

According to Slosiarik, the turnout of the second round, if there is one, will depend on which challenger makes it.

“Some candidates have more significant potential to mobilize, others have less. It also depends on how the second round will be introduced to people. If it will be a plebiscite about the government of Robert Fico, then the turnout might increase,” Slosiarik told The Slovak Spectator.

As for the factors, which might play a role in turnout, Baránek suggests publich disillusionment with politics may play a role. Haulík of MVK pollster believes turnout will be high even in the first round.

Radka Minarechová contributed to the story