RACES sometimes have obvious winners and losers even before they start. Then there are surprise races, in which the lame nag suddenly turns into Pegasus and harvests the laurels. Presidential races sometimes work in a similar way. But the election of Slovakia’s next president, scheduled for March 21, will probably have to do without a Pegasus.
It seems that the incumbent, Ivan Gašparovič, will face a decent challenge in the person of Iveta Radičová, a sociologist by profession and the deputy chairwoman of the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ), who is running with the backing of all the parliamentary opposition parties.
Nonetheless, it is worth taking a look at the rest of the candidates, who enter such races driven by different ambitions: some see it as cheap advertising or enrol because they are simply unable to do otherwise and whose names have anyway appeared on different candidate lists for different positions and running in different colours for years.
Others enter the race for very pragmatic reasons, for example to pick up votes here and there from other candidates, most importantly the strong ones, and thus weaken their chances of winning. Then there are the narcissistic types who enter the race just for the hell of it, driven by no specific ambition other than to see their own names in print.
Since the presidential race is now nearing, this is to give these potential runners their moment of fame. But not just that: examining them reveals some interesting political and social stereotypes.
One of the no-chance candidates, who was first to announce her ambition to run, is Dagmar Bollová.
Between 2002 and 2006, Bollová was an MP for the Communist Party of Slovakia. After concluding that her comrades had deviated from the purist Marxist ideals, she quit the party. She now aspires to move into Slovakia’s version of the White House. What does Bollová stand for? “The ideals of goodness and humanity,” she claims.
“Minority politics is harmful; this nation has to unite and not to take the path of minorities,” Bollová said in an interview with the Sme daily. “If we have national minorities, minorities based on their orientation, religion, or social status, what good would that do? Let’s seek out not what divides us but rather what unites us.”
Then there is Ivan Šimko, who over the years has helped to establish a dizzying array of parties: the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), the Slovak Democratic Coalition, the Slovak Christian and Democratic Union (SDKÚ), Free Forum (SF) and the political dwarf Mission 21. Šimko has been talking a lot about value-oriented politics and his ambition was apparently to pursue these in the presidential election – until he realised he didn’t stand a chance. He is now urging voters to back František Mikloško, the candidate of the Conservative Democrats of Slovakia (KDS).
Nonetheless Šimko resolutely rejects the description “political corpse” and even told Sme: “The same was said about Churchill after the WWI and his serious mistakes during the military operations - and you see how far he made it.”
Peculiarly, after quitting Mikuláš Dzurinda’s SDKÚ and establishing SF, he shortly afterwards left this party as well: specifically, it was after he had failed to get elected as its chairman. SF then slipped into the hands of its present presidential candidate, Zuzana Martináková.
Martináková, who in her journalistic past worked as a BBC correspondent, has complained that SF is being ignored by media. She said she would focus on families and their problems, which she says have deepened during the crisis. Martináková’s husband worked for Ivan Gašparovič’s office. She rejected claims that this represented a conflict of interest and said her husband would quit his job. Observers believe that Martináková has the potential to pick up a few votes from Radičová, who is still the most serious challenger to Gašparovič.
František Mikloško is running under banner of the KDS, made up of four former KDH MPs who broke away to form their own party in 2008, citing a lack of morals and principles on the part of the KDH. Mikloško, who stood in 2004 and won the support of 6 percent of voters, is unlikely to do much better this time around. Commentators suggest that the KDS is using his candidacy as a cheap advertisement for the next parliamentary elections.
One of the most notorious presidential candidates, former prime minister Vladimír Mečiar, will not appear on ballot papers for the first time in three presidential elections. His party, the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) granted Milan Melník the dubious honour of representing it. The scientific community, even the international one, knows more about Professor Melník than the Slovak public ever will. Even though Melník is an internationally recognised chemistry expert, it is not the academic community which will elect the president. While many will whole-heartedly acknowledge Melník’s value as one of the most frequently quoted Slovak scientists, they will also look at him as just the candidate of the HZDS, a party which is still the personal vehicle of Mečiar.
While the number of candidates might create the impression that there is quite a wide menu from which Slovaks can choose, the reality is that most of these people are only adding a touch of colour here and there to the festivities. Considering the circumstances this might be interpreted as a virtue. Perhaps: but only if they do not harm the chances of the candidate who brings real hope of a decent president for the country.