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ONLY ONE CANDIDATE HAS OFFICIALLY STARTED CAMPAIGN, BUT MORE WILL FOLLOW

Presidential campaign 2004 begins

LESS than a year before the upcoming presidential elections, one candidate has started his campaign while several potential rivals are cautiously mapping out their chances with the electorate.
President Rudolf Schuster's five-year term in office will end in spring 2004 and although the head of state has not yet confirmed his candidacy, Schuster is among several Slovak personalities expected to run for the post.
Two candidates have so far confirmed that they will stand in the elections - Christian Democrat (KDH) MP František Mikloško and Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan, with the latter leading recent opinion polls (see interview with Kukan, below).


Rudolf Schuster, Independent
photo: TASR

LESS than a year before the upcoming presidential elections, one candidate has started his campaign while several potential rivals are cautiously mapping out their chances with the electorate.

President Rudolf Schuster's five-year term in office will end in spring 2004 and although the head of state has not yet confirmed his candidacy, Schuster is among several Slovak personalities expected to run for the post.

Two candidates have so far confirmed that they will stand in the elections - Christian Democrat (KDH) MP František Mikloško and Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan, with the latter leading recent opinion polls (see interview with Kukan, below).


Eduard Kukan, SDKÚ
photo: TASR

Presidents in Slovakia are elected by a direct popular vote and although political backing of candidates plays an important role, an active campaign among voters is also seen as a necessary factor for success. So far, however, only Kukan has begun his campaign and Slovakia is still waiting for competitors to enter the race.

According to the most recent survey published on July 1, MVK polling agency found that Kukan was favoured as future president by 20.6 percent of respondents, followed by opposition politician and three-time former prime minister Vladimír Mečiar, who scored 15.8 percent in the poll. Despite relatively high support, Mečiar refuses to confirm or reject his candidacy.


František Mikloško, KDH
photo: TASR

In 1999 he ran in the presidential elections only to be defeated by Schuster, who outscored the controversial Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) leader in the second round of elections, Under the Slovak electoral system, if no candidate receives more than 50 percent in the first round, the top two candidates enter a second vote.

Analysts think Mečiar's controversial political past will complicate his bid. According to Darina Malová, an analyst with Bratislava's Comenius University, despite having a stable supporter group at home, Mečiar remains "a controversial figure who represents policies that are not accepted in the EU and the world".

Mečiar has been widely blamed for pushing Slovakia into international isolation under his last 1994 to 1998 cabinet.


Vladimír Mečiar, HZDS
photo: TASR

However, political analysts are not ruling out a Mečiar bid for the presidential seat. Malová said it was "the only way for Mečiar to remain in top-level politics considering the fading popularity of his party".

In the last five years, the HZDS has plummeted from nearly 30 percent support to its current 14.5 percent.

Other candidates, including KDH's favorite Mikloško, have not commented on their strategies for the presidential elections. Neither Mikloško nor Mečiar responded to questions from The Slovak Spectator regarding their candidacies.

Former finance minister Brigita Schmögnerová as well as former Slovak ambassador to the US Martin Bútora might run for the post, too.


Martin Bútora, Independent
photo: TASR


Neither of them has ruled out the possibility.

On July 7, Bútora told The Slovak Spectator: "I am considering the candidacy because I believe that in this post I would be able to achieve a lot for the country."

But before confirming his candidacy, Bútora wants to tour the country to see how people would react to his ambitions. According to Bútora, Slovakia needs a president who can lead the state in "good times and in bad". This should be someone of international prestige and achievement, and one who has "a dream about Slovakia and an ability to make this vision come true", Bútora said.

Caption: While Kukan is running alone for now, other prominent Slovak political leaders, including those pictured here, are expected to join the race. Presidential elections in Slovakia will be held in 2004.

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