AS OF June 15, Slovakia will have a president and a prime minister with a history that hardly lays a good basis for their constructive cooperation. The pair faced each other in the run-off of the presidential election, which was preceded by two weeks of intensive, and at times very unpleasant campaigning.

As Robert Fico kept accusing Andrej Kiska of links with the Church of Scientology and usury, Kiska did not hesitate to announce on the night when the results of the election’s first round were published that he was filing a criminal complaint for the anonymous negative campaigning that had been waged against him.

Fico said many things that he should never have said, but since it happened, it cannot be undone, political analyst Grigorij Mesežnikov, president of the non-governmental Institute for Public Affairs (IVO), told The Slovak Spectator, following Kiska’s election. There is however no reason “to bring all this into institutional cooperation”, he added.

Indeed, ever since he was elected, Kiska has stressed that he wants to act as a counter-balance to the government, while having constructive relations with the administration and particularly with the prime minister. He repeated that after he met Fico about a week before his inauguration, calling their meeting constructive and even pleasant in an interview with the Sme daily.

“I would be very glad if there was a dialogue going on between the president and the government, which works best when people agree on regular meetings,” Kiska told Sme on June 10. He did, however, admit that Fico expressed a concern that Kiska wants to be in an opposition force to the government.

Tension expected

Despite the good intentions expressed by Kiska, Mesežnikov conceded he expects problems with Fico being the one to provoke conflicts, “since he is known to be quite vengeful, very personal, combative and quarrelsome”.

Political analyst Miroslav Kusý also believes Kiska is not a person to seek conflicts and he has demonstrated his style as attempting to solve problems in a conciliatory manner, using a sensible tone without provoking strong emotions.

“Of course, much depends on the other side too, what stance the prime minister takes towards [Kiska] and whether it will escalate some conflicting situations or not,” he told The Slovak Spectator.

Slovaks experienced difficult relations between presidents and prime ministers during the time of Vladimír Mečiar, who gave then president Michal Kováč a hard time under his term, Kusý recalled. Back then, “the prime minister was driving the malevolent attitude towards the president to the extreme”, he noted.

Balancing power

All through the presidential campaign, running against the prime minister and the leader of the one-party government, Kiska has stressed his ambition to serve as a counter-balance to the government. Following his election, he maintained the same rhetoric, talking about “a healthy balance”. If he manages to do that, it would certainly come as a change compared with his predecessor, Ivan Gašparovič, who was inclined towards the ruling party.

Balancing the power of the government is not an option, but a constitutional duty of the president, according to Mesežnikov, given the fact that the constitution is based on the division of power and a system of checks and balances. This counter-balance is particularly important in a situation where the ruling party controls all the other positions in the state (with the exception of the ombudswoman’s office), as is currently the case in Slovakia.

“If we look at the way the constitution’s provisions are formulated concerning the division of power, [the president being the counter-balance to the government] is even a natural state,” he said. This balance is secured through the president’s power to veto a bill and return it to parliament, or the power to countersign various appointments.

Fico was trying to do just the opposite and concentrate power in his own hands when running for president , Mesežnikov noted.

On the other hand, Kiska does not seem to have any power-related ambitions of his own.

“He has not suggested that he would have any ambition to build some other power centre or to politically influence the system, change it, or strengthen the powers of the president,” he said.
The presidential office is perceived as mainly ceremonial, with little influence over the day-to-day affairs of the country. This perception has been strengthened in the past 10 years, when Gašparovič served in the office.

“When someone is phlegmatic and does not care much, like Gašparovič, then nothing is happening, the presidential post stops working effectively and remains somewhere in the background,” Kusý told The Slovak Spectator. Kusý gave examples of big presidents in Czechoslovakia’s history, among them first Czechoslovak President Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, his successor Edvard Beneš, and later Václav Havel, as those who managed to insert drive, content and energy into the presidential office.

“So yes, when [Kiska] puts everything he promises into it, it should be for the better, and it should be felt very intensively that there’s a president – a personality,” Kusý concluded.

Radka Minarechová contributed to this report