IVAN Gašparovič, the one-time right-hand man of controversial three-time prime minister Vladimír Mečiar, has wrapped up his decade-long tenure as president and Andrej Kiska is taking office.

Gašparovič, who became head of state in 2004, was widely seen as the lesser of two evils when he faced his former boss Mečiar in the second round that year. He will now be replaced by tycoon and philanthropist Andrej Kiska who defeated Prime Minister Robert Fico, the official candidate of the ruling Smer in the March 2014 presidential run-off. Kiska picked up 59.4 percent of the vote, as compared to Fico’s 40.6 percent.

Kiska, the first-ever independent candidate with no political background to win the presidency, is to be sworn in on June 15 with an inauguration programme that features a lunch in the presidential garden where he also invited pensioners, homeless people and children from orphanages. Observers suggest some radical departures from how Gašparovič embraced the presidency.

“I will open the Presidential Palace for people who need the help of all of us,” said Kiska, according to an official release. “At least symbolically, I want to show on the first day that they will be a priority for me while serving as president.”

Along with top state officials, members of parliament, diplomats, representatives of academia and churches, Kiska also invited people from NGOs, the start-up community, successful Slovak companies and cultural institutions to the formal evening inaugural reception. Whistleblowers decorated with the White Crow award, successful students and families enrolled in the Dobrý Anjel (Good Angel) charity programme are also on the guest list.

Kiska said that the list of invited guests represents the reasons he entered politics, as he invited people who are helping others, but also people who themselves need help.

Meanwhile the outgoing president on June 11 received Fico and his ministers.

“I am looking forward to having more free time, but I am convinced that I will be missing you somehow,” Gašparovič said on June 11, as quoted by the SITA newswire. “I will miss the meetings where if we had problems we called each other, we came and sought solutions.”

Gašparovič said that during his tenure he cooperated mainly with Fico-led governments. Fico has said he is convinced that he and Kiska must cooperate, adding that this does not mean that they cannot have different opinions on certain things.

“Mr Gašparovič, too, several times sent me to hell when I approached him with something and he said no, he disagrees with it, but it does not mean that our relations weren’t correct and super-standard,” Fico said, as quoted by SITA.

In a recent interview with the Sme daily, Kiska said he wants to be a partner of the government and parliament, while according to his own words he assured Fico during their recent meeting that ‘I will not be a president of the opposition, but that of people’.

Gašparovič gave a 45-minute farewell speech on June 12 in parliament. While brushing on dozens of issues, he remained rather general until directing his criticism at the performance of the media. He said the media are biased, politicised and manipulative, and that the country is heading towards what Gašparovič called ‘mediacracy’.

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