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UNOFFICIALLY, NATO AND EC SOURCES EXPRESS DISQUIET, OFFICIALLY SAY FIRST ROUND OF ELECTIONS WAS NO TRAGEDY

Crown barely trembles at results

THOUGH the failure of Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) candidate Eduard Kukan to make it to the second round of presidential elections stunned the public, the Slovak currency has not suffered any major blows. On April 5, it marginally eased by no more than 10 haliers, reaching 40.19/24 against the euro.
The first round of elections gave Slovakia two winners: Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) boss and former Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar, who collected 32.73 percent of the vote, and his onetime ally and non-parliamentary Movement for Democracy chairman Ivan Gašparovič with 22.28 percent.


MEČIAR and Gašparovič are warming up for the final race.
photo: Peter Brenkus

THOUGH the failure of Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) candidate Eduard Kukan to make it to the second round of presidential elections stunned the public, the Slovak currency has not suffered any major blows. On April 5, it marginally eased by no more than 10 haliers, reaching 40.19/24 against the euro.

The first round of elections gave Slovakia two winners: Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) boss and former Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar, who collected 32.73 percent of the vote, and his onetime ally and non-parliamentary Movement for Democracy chairman Ivan Gašparovič with 22.28 percent.

Analysts do not expect the results of the presidential elections to have any long-term impact on the development of the Slovak currency or the economy in general.

"Neither the results of the first nor the second round (regardless of who wins) will have any real long-term impact on the development of the Slovak crown.

The slight weakening that came after the first round might reappear after the second round but it is not likely to considerably deviate from the regular volatility of the euro to crown rate. An eventual escalation of tensions within the ruling coalition would be a much bigger threat to the development of the currency," Robert Prega, an analyst with Tatra banka, told The Slovak Spectator.

ING bank analyst Ján Tóth told the Spectator that the developments might make some investors wait on the sidelines, but no real impact was expected in the long run.

Responding to fears that the eventual return of Mečiar could repel foreign investors, Prega said that there was no current danger that investors would change their decisions.

"Such a development would be likely only if the current economic line of the government were changed or if serious corrections were made to the structural reforms," Prega told The Slovak Spectator.

Unlike the Slovak currency and bank analysts, Slovak society and the international community are in tense anticipation of the new president of Slovakia or, more precisely, whether it will be a "new" Mečiar, who is well placed to win the April 17 race, or the same Mečiar who brought Slovakia to the edge of international isolation.

NATO and the European Commission have issued no official stand on the election results.

According to the news wire TASR, unofficial sources, especially from NATO, have expressed disquiet at the prospect of a political comeback by the former premier, albeit to the largely ceremonial post of president.

"We're a little surprised and upset; the results are not a very good signal but we don't consider it a tragedy," a NATO diplomat speaking on the condition of anonymity told the TASR news wire.

Jan Marinus Wiersma, European Parliament rapporteur for Slovakia, said he was disappointed that the April 17 runoff would now be between two candidates who were part of the "problematic" administration of 1994 - 1998.

"In effect, people have no choice," he said. "The low turnout is the most important factor, but the cause goes deeper."

Mečiar is considered the symbol of the country's isolation between 1994 and 1998.

He tried to walk into the presidential palace in 1999 but in a vote that analysts interpreted as a choice "for the lesser evil", the nation chose Košice Mayor Rudolf Schuster.

In the April 17 race, Mečiar will face his onetime ally Gašparovič, who parted from Mečiar in 2002 after he was dropped from the HZDS candidate list.

Conflicts between the two had begun much earlier, when party members started viewing Gašparovič as a possible replacement for Mečiar in the top post.

Gašparovič told the news wire SITA that he hopes to have a good relationship with the international community.

"If there were any negative reactions from abroad [to the election results], I am sure they did not concern me," Gašparovič said.

Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan, the candidate of Premier Mikulas Dzurinda's SDKÚ party whom opinion polls had considered a shoo-in for the second round, came in 3,644 votes behind Gašparovič.

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