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MEČIAR'S RISING SUPPORT PUTS PRESSURE ON COALITION CANDIDATE KUKAN, REPLACING HIM AS POLL LEADER

Roman quits, Smer supports Gašparovič

LESS than three weeks before the presidential elections on April 3, the race is getting dramatic. Ľubo Roman, the candidate of the co-ruling New Citizen's Alliance, has withdrawn from the race in favour of Foreign Affairs Minister Eduard Kukan, who is the candidate of Mikuláš Dzurinda's Slovak Democratic and Christian Union.
Kukan has found himself in need of more voter espousal after Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) boss Vladimír Mečiar climbed over him on the popularity charts for the first time, with the support of 26.7 percent of potential voters.


SMER would like to see Gašparovič in the Presidential Palace.
photo: TASR

LESS than three weeks before the presidential elections on April 3, the race is getting dramatic. Ľubo Roman, the candidate of the co-ruling New Citizen's Alliance, has withdrawn from the race in favour of Foreign Affairs Minister Eduard Kukan, who is the candidate of Mikuláš Dzurinda's Slovak Democratic and Christian Union.

Kukan has found himself in need of more voter espousal after Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) boss Vladimír Mečiar climbed over him on the popularity charts for the first time, with the support of 26.7 percent of potential voters.

The opposition party Smer granted its support to Ivan Gašparovič, candidate of the Movement for Democracy party.

Incumbent Rudolf Schuster, who now occupies third place on the charts, had originally hoped to win the support of this strongest opposition group.

However, Schuster told the daily SME that the Smer decision had not taken him by surprise and that he understood the move as the "continuation of the influence of sponsors on the party and its political body."

The HZDS promptly lashed out at Smer for what they called an effort to disintegrate the opposition and enhance Kukan's chances.

Smer chairman Robert Fico told the press that, in fact, Gašparovič and Kukan were the two choices of the party.

Sociologist Anetta Patajová said that Gašparovič might threaten Schuster's position but could hardly catch up with Mečiar and Kukan.

For the former speaker of parliament and onetime ally of Mečiar, withdrawing from the race is out of question.

"If I gave up my candidacy, I would disappoint my supporters and I cannot do that," Gašparovič told The Slovak Spectator.

Controversial Žilina mayor Ján Slota, known for his extremist statements, also supports Gasparovič's presidential hopes. The candidate himself is not conflicted over Slota's backing.

"Often there is something to his ideas. But he has his own way of presenting himself. Unfortunately, it is as it is," Gašparovič told The Slovak Spectator in an interview on March 9.

The ruling coalition has another candidate - Christian Democratic MP František Mikloško, supported by the Hungarian Coalition Party. Mikloško does not plan to withdraw from the race either.

"I think it's highly improbable, since the Christian Democratic Party has clearly declared it will support its candidate untill the very end," Grigorij Mesežnikov, political scientist with the Institute for Public Affairs, told the news wire TASR.

The withdrawal of Roman, the governor of the Bratislava region, was a rather pragmatic step, which came shortly after New Citizen's Alliance leaders decided that his chances were slim.

Roman said Kukan was a candidate with all the qualifications needed to become the head of the country.

"I consider it a positive signal for the ruling coalition," New Citizen's Alliance leader Pavol Rusko told a press conference on March 14. He added that the coalition should have decided on a joint candidate long before.

The March 1 - 9 poll by the Institute for Public Opinion Research showed support of only 3.5 percent for Roman.

Following Mečiar, Kukan came in second with 25.4 percent, followed by Schuster and Gašparovič backed by 17.1 percent and 12.7 percent respectively. Mikloško won 8.8 percent of those polled. Martin Bútora, former ambassador to the US, collected 3.4 percent ahead of Jozef Kalman with 1.5 percent.

However, almost 12 percent of those polled have already decided that they will not cast their votes, listing disappointment with politics or lack of trust in the candidates as main reasons for their indifference.

At this point, Mečiar does not worry the ruling coalition too much.

Political scientist Miroslav Kusý told the news wire SITA that Mečiar's victory was not probable. He said that the rise of Mečiar's preferences might be a momentary response to his departure from his "pro-Dzurinda path."

Analyst Grigorij Mesežnikov also thinks that the victor of the presidential elections will be Kukan rather than Mečiar, who is mostly supported by the older generation and respondents with elementary education. However, he also enjoys the unambiguous support of HZDS voters.

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