ONE OF the last polls to be published before the March 15 presidential race has confirmed a frequently voiced theory. If Prime Minister Robert Fico fails to take 50 percent of vote in the first round, his challenger stands a chance of winning in the second round.

The recent poll by the Focus polling agency singled out businessman and philanthropist Andrej Kiska as having a chance to beat Fico in the second round. Nevertheless, the pollster was quick to add that people who preferred Kiska in the polls belong to a group that is rather difficult to read.

Meanwhile, Kiska has accused Fico of waging an anti-campaign against him, with Fico’s team responding that the prime minister is actually the most frequent target of campaign attacks.

Focus director Martin Slosiarik suggests if a second-round run-off is to be held, in terms of numbers, Fico’s challenger will be in a more comfortable position than the prime minister, because the challenger will have a larger potential to add new voters.

“He [Fico] would have to rely first of all on the votes from his core voters, who voted for him in the first round,” Slosiarik told The Slovak Spectator, adding that this situation opens the door for any challenger of Fico to address the voters of unsuccessful candidates from the first round. “And these voters are more likely to support the challenger rather than the current prime minister.”

However, it will not be easy to mobilise these voters, while the attitude of the failed candidates will play a role as well, Slosiarik said.

The poll

The Focus poll conducted between January 27 and February 5 among 1,051 respondents moved Fico and Kiska to the hypothetical second round of the presidential race. In the first round Fico harvested the support of 38 percent of those polled, while Kiska would have gained the support of 17.3 percent of the poll participants. Yet, Kiska won the hypothetical second round at 53.7 percent while Fico was backed by 46.3 percent of the respondents, according to the poll.

Former Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) member Radoslav Procházka came in third with 10.8 percent, followed by Velvet Revolution leader and actor Milan Kňažko with 9.5 percent and Pavol Hrušovský of the KDH with 9.3 percent. Gyula Bárdos of the Party of Hungarian Community (SMK) garnered 5.6 percent, according to the Focus poll, as published by the Sme daily.

As many as 64.4 percent of those polled said they would vote, while 18.9 percent said they would not.

As for other hypothetical second-round run-offs, Procházka with his 47.7 percent lost to Fico’s 52.3 percent, Kňažko with his 41.9 percent was defeated by Fico’s 58.1 percent and Hrušovský harvested 41.4 percent while Fico got 58.6 percent, the Focus poll suggested.

Earlier polls differed in the rankings of Fico’s potential challengers while striking accord over Fico’s primacy.

A poll carried out by Polis in late January and early February had Fico winning the hypothetical first round with 40.5 percent of the vote; Kiska gathered 15.3 percent and Kňažko landed third place with 10.1 percent of the vote, the SITA newswire reported on February 4.

Procházka took fourth place with 9.2 percent, followed by Hrušovský with 9.1 percent and Bárdos with 4.3 percent.

A recent MVK poll had Procházka second to Fico with 13.6 percent, while Kiska garnered 13.2 percent.

Kiska’s candidacy

While the poll results inspired fiery debates on social networking sites, observers suggest that the numbers should not be given more importance than they deserve; partly, because the upcoming official campaign might shuffle the cards and partly because potential Kiska voters are hard to read.

Kiska is picking up his supporters mostly from the centre-right or centrist groups, said Slosiarik, suggesting that it is natural that he has lower support among the KDH voters than voters of the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ), since the Christian Democrats have their own candidate, Hrušovský, plus party founder Ján Čarnogurský is running as well.

According to Slosiarik, Kiska also appeals to the liberal end of the political spectrum, while he has considerable support among “anti-systemic voters, where along with smaller non-parliamentary parties, we could also rank Ordinary People and Independent Personalities (OĽaNO)”.

“At the same time he is also able to address people who do not feel inclined toward any political party, but they are not completely indifferent to what is happening around them,” Slosiarik said.

Yet, the greatest risk for Kiska is whether finally these people go to the polling stations because, according to Slosiarik, they do not feel any strong affection towards any political party.

Kiska appeals to voters because he is not linked with any political party and thus “the voters have not been associating him with the crisis of traditional political parties and corruption scandals”, Slosiarik said.

“They see new blood in him, someone who is beyond the accustomed establishment and existing power structures,” he added.

The campaign

As for the factors that could influence voters in the coming weeks, Slosiarik says that “the official campaign is only yet to come”. So far, particular candidates have presented themselves separately, without mutual interaction.

“What we can look forward to and what might transmit important signals for the voters are the mutual discussions in television and radio, presentations of particular candidates in the media, anti-campaigns, which are certainly part of the strategies and not least the culmination of the campaign in terms of political advertisements on the screens or billboards,” Slosiarik said.

Spending on presidential campaigns is capped at €132,775 including VAT, while the campaign is to officially start 15 days before the elections and ends 48 hours before the actual vote. Nevertheless, a number of candidates have posted their billboards across Slovakia long before the official start of the campaign.

The law defines the campaign as any activity of the candidates, parties and movements or other entities for the benefit of the candidate, including advertising or promotion through television or radio broadcasts, mass communication means, billboards, placards or other media. During the official campaign all the candidates should be secured equal access to mass media, the TASR newswire wrote, referring to the law.

Yet, observers have been criticising the time limit for campaigning, with Peter Kunder of the Fair-Play Alliance suggesting for Sme on January 17 that the ban makes no sense and that politicians should have the option to communicate with their voters all the time.

Kiska has accused Fico of organising an anti-campaign against him through false profiles, mostly pertaining to his former businesses, Triangel and Quatro. Fico’s party, Smer, according to SITA, responded that it does not devote much attention to Kiska and his activities.

“If someone is an object of an anti-campaign, then it is Fico [who is attacked by] other candidates,” Smer spokeswoman Monika Počátková said.

Radka Minarechová contributed to this story