PRESIDENTIAL elections are a strange political festivity, waking the slumbering ambitions of a wide range of people, regardless of their chances.There are the notorious runners who crawl from their lairs every time there is a juicy position or two on offer, not least the presidency: Slovakia’s former prime minister, and chairman of the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), Vladimír Mečiar, is an eternal candidate, who already has two presidential election failures to his name.
Though never making it to the palace via the ballot box (he was briefly acting president), Mečiar in fact played a key role in the last two presidential elections. The presence of the man, who as prime minister in the mid 90s led the country to the edge of international isolation, pushed many voters toward the “lesser evils”: Rudolf Schuster and, later, Ivan Gašparovič.
Schuster, who before 1989 sat on the Communist Party’s national central committee and held a number of top posts in the Košice region, was Slovakia's first directly-elected president. What will remain most deeply engraved in the national memory are his publicity stunts, when as Košice mayor he had 70,000 people dance the ‘Macarena’ on the city's main square or presented citizens with what was, allegedly, the world's longest apple strudel.
It is too early to tell what unique images, if any, Gašparovič will engrave in the public mind. What is certain is that he will never be able to erase the memory of his erstwhile role as one of Mečiar’s closest allies in the HZDS party. As the party's second most popular man, it was Gašparovič’s job to defend policies which proved indigestible to international organisations. He turned against Mečiar only after he was omitted from the HZDS candidate list for the 2002 parliamentary elections. Ironically, Gašparovič’s participation and surprise victory in the 2004 presidential election was almost entirely the result of the Mečiar effect.
But this time Mečiar will not run. At least that’s what he says. Instead, the HZDS have announced that the party will seek a candidate strong enough to face the now-incumbent Gašparovič in the 2009 race.
Yet Gašparovič is determined to run, armed with 33 percent public support. According to a recent opinion poll by the MVK polling agency, Gašparovič is the second most trusted politician after Prime Minister Robert Fico, with 46 percent support.
The third slot belongs to the former labour minister and current MP for the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) Iveta Radičová, who has a decent chance of unseating Gašparovič.
A sociologist by profession, Radičová is running with the backing of the opposition Hungarian Coalition Party and the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), as well as her own SDKÚ. Radičová has also announced that she aspires to be a civic rather than a political candidate. She has already started collecting the 15,000 signatures she needs to stand as a ‘people’s’ candidate.
Meanwhile, Slovakia’s former ambassador to the United States, Martin Bútora, has announced that he will not run for the presidency, contrary to media speculation that he would. He’s called on all those people who supported him back in 2004 to give their vote to Radičová. She has also has been indirectly endorsed by the former Czech (and Czechoslovak) President Václav Havel.
But support has not been forthcoming from the former KDH deputies who broke away from their party earlier this year, citing its lack of morals and principles. Instead, they are putting up their own candidate in the 2009 race: František Mikloško.
Mikloško belongs to that group of candidates who are not in complete disharmony with everything a president should stand for, but are nevertheless unlikely to win mass support. In effect, all they do is divert votes from stronger candidates who might present a decent alternative to the likes of Mečiar and Gašparovič.
Mikloško, who ran in 2004 and attracted 6 percent of the vote, will now run in the colours of the Conservative Democrats of Slovakia. The new party seems bent on using the campaign as a convenient opportunity to advertise its existence, while making no difference whatsoever to the world of politics.
Mikloško’s presidential ambitions have attracted a lot of criticism from people who say that the Conservative Democrats, if they were serious about wanting to have a decent president with an acceptable political past, should be supporting Radičová instead.
The elections are still far away, in spring 2009, but there is already an army of obscure figures whose greatest virtue is that they are unlikely to harm any decent candidate, but whose main sin – and it not a small one - is that they damage the presidential election by turning part of it into a farce.