The first round of the presidential election will take place on Saturday, March 21. The Slovak Spectator put six questions before all seven candidates for the position of President of the Slovak Republic and is publishing their detailed responses.
The candidates are:
Ivan Gašparovič – incumbent president and candidate of two of the three ruling parties, Smer and the Slovak National Party (SNS);
Iveta Radičová, candidate of three opposition parliamentary parties, the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ), the Christian Democratic Party (KDH) and the Party of Hungarian Coalition (SMK);
František Mikloško, candidate of the opposition party Christian Democrats of Slovakia (KDS);
Zuzana Martináková, candidate of the non-parliamentary liberal party Free Forum (SF);
Milan Melník, candidate of one of the ruling coalition parties, the Movement for Democratic Slovakia (HZDS);
Dagmar Bollová, an independent candidate and former PM from the Communist Party Slovakia (KSS);
Milan Sidor, the endorsed candidate of the Communist Party Slovakia (KSS).
The Slovak Spectator (TSS): In what ways do you consider the position of president of Slovakia important? What is the core of the president’s role, in your opinion?
Ivan Gašparovič (IG): The president is the supreme constitutional functionary, whose powers are clearly defined by the Constitution. The president should be a stabilising element on the political scene and he should rather connect than divide the society with his consensual activities.
Iveta Radičová (IR): The president has many possibilities in actively functioning within the society. Justice, the state’s stance towards the family, representation of the country, convergence of political rivals, creating space for public discussion about issues we need to solve. I have never well-withstood wrongs committed on weaker people. The president of the republic has a real chance to become an advocate for all people, and if necessary, to also be the corrector of wrongdoings.
I am convinced that Slovakia is a good place to live. However, this does not mean that we don’t need to progress further, to bring peace and harmony into public and political life, to contribute to a constructive atmosphere when solving big and small human troubles and sorrows; this is a good agenda for the head of state. To bring forth serious issues, to contribute to the search for solutions, and to help pressure them through; I have been working like this all my life and I intend to continue it.
The office of president embodies the authority of the state; the personality of the president gives it its content. The frequency and content of the execution of these powers depends directly on the personal contribution and nature of the individual president, so they cannot be underestimated.
The basic mission of the President of the Slovak Republic is to represent the state outwards and inwards. Thus, it disposes several types of actual forces or powers – traditional authority powers, which include mainly the chance to pardon and reduce sentences and erase a sentence in the form of an individual pardon or amnesty. He or she has the power to grant supreme state honours or commission another body to do so as well as holding protocol and notarial powers like signing laws or ratification of international agreements and nomination of college professors.
The norm-setting authority and powers enable the president to influence the form of the legal order of the state. Through active execution of this authority, the president can greatly intervene in the form of legal order, especially as the so-called negative lawmaker. Thus, in a way, the president also plays the role of the second house of parliament, as he or she operates as a “buffer” against potential excesses of lawmakers. The president also has extensive nomination and recall powers, as the head of state nominates and recalls the prime minister and other cabinet members, diplomats, justices, generals, and rectors. He or she has the chance to act as a mediator, or as the proverbial pointer on the scale, and especially as the president is elected directly by citizens, it is much more probable that he or she performs this mission with the awareness of a direct and unmediated responsibility towards all citizens.
František Mikloško (FM): The position of president is the final firm point in case of any crisis.
Zuzana Martináková (ZM): The president should represent us abroad; at home, he or she should be active in solving people’s problems.
The second basic task is a dignified representation of Slovakia abroad. I often have said that when a president disembarks from a plane abroad, it is Slovakia that is disembarking. People abroad form their opinion of us, as Slovaks, also from the politicians who we elected to lead us, from the impressions they make, how they communicate, what signals they give, how they behave. A president should represent all generations of Slovaks in a dignified way, including the young generation which has been at the bottom of the interest of political parties. Slovakia is a beautiful, modern and educated country, so its first representative should be the same.
Milan Melník (MM): Within the current extent of powers stipulated by the Slovak Constitution, the president has an extraordinarily crucial role in the position of a “mediator” of society. He should unify society, help remove the causes of political antipathies, he should eagerly bring up important social, political, and economic issues in the cabinet and in parliament, and, of course, he should be an active part of foreign diplomacy. The times when the president was just a mere representational puppet and just one of the persons signing laws have been long since gone since.
Milan Sidor (MS): In Slovakia’s case, too, the president is the supreme representative of the state. He or she represents our country to the outside world. He gives – or can give – it new dynamics, a higher degree of sovereignty in international relations. So far, as a middle-small European country, our partners often tend to disregard us, because in the international context the opinion has ever more strongly prevailed that, even though there are individual votes, the biggest powers have the biggest influence on decisions.
Dagmara Bollová (DB): For foreign countries, the president must be the epitome of the country’s and the nation’s uniqueness, the symbol of pride and respect towards traditions. At home, the president should be the creator of the vision for future, to show the way and lead our society towards it.
TSS: Does the Slovak presidency have enough powers? If not, in what ways should they be enhanced?
IG: The strongest power of president is that he nominates the prime minister and cabinet who then implement the actual policies.
However, the president can also influence citizen’s lives through his decisions about laws passed by parliament. During my whole term, I put stress primarily on respect for the Slovak Constitution and on what impact individual laws do have on citizens.
The power of the president also is in concluding foreign treaties, which I consider vital. My predecessor left this privilege to the government; I took it back. And I may well say that many agreements had to be adapted due to my comments.
There is also the very important role of the president as representative of the state abroad. Of course, he has to coordinate his positions with the government and foreign affairs minister, and it is well-known that we have not always agreed on everything in the past, but we have always found common solutions.
To speak about strengthening presidential power a few weeks before the election would probably not be right. But for the future, I can imagine – especially due to the character of direct vote by citizens – the strengthening of some of the president’s powers.
IR: Certainly, there are spheres in the execution of presidential powers which are not sufficient or are not sufficiently worded; but I consider it much more important to actively use the possibilities that the Slovak Constitution already offers the president.
It means not extensive, but rather intensive execution of the presidential office. This means that president’s positions and decisions, even in cases when he or she does not act, have a huge moral weight and social impact. For me personally, the idea that presidential powers are also moral imperatives for the head of this state is an enormous challenge. Every step by the head of state may have the character of precedence; the decisions bear the huge potential of norm-forming with sweeping and sometimes hardly foreseeable results.
What additional authority would I like most as president? In Slovakia, the president is directly elected by citizens, and thus he or she has a strong mandate from citizens. I think that the president’s powers could be enhanced in putting forth factual proposals, that is, the possibility of direct legislative initiatives, which MPs, parliamentary committees and the government have now.
FM: The Slovak president has few powers, but they are sufficient for him to shape the life in Slovakia.
ZM: The position does not make the person, but the person makes the position. Even with the current authorities and powers, the president can play a crucial role in the country. A passive president gives the impression that he or she does not have any powers; an active one can fully use the mandate given by citizens.
However, after the election, the presidential powers should be reconsidered. The president acquires a strong mandate, as he or she gets a much higher number of votes than, for instance, a party which gets five to six percent of the votes in a parliamentary election. I am a great supporter of parliamentary democracy and I would not flirt with any presidential system, but the president could get back at least the power to co-decide on ministers. It would be good if the president did not have to accept the prime minister’s proposal to nominate a particular minister.
MM: He has enough power to fulfil the goals I mentioned earlier. I have always said that the presidential office is not a new apartment that must be immediately painted. The presidential office is an institution in which all opportunities to function and act given by the Constitution must first be fulfilled. Only after these have been fulfilled and society decides that the president should have more powers, then it is the role of society to find a consensus about which powers to add to the president’s already existing ones. The president is not a queen bee in a beehive around which all life has been spinning. The president should rather be a worker bee which takes care of its true queen bee – the citizens of Slovakia.
MS: Unfortunately, the powers that the president has now are not always and everywhere implemented when solving a specific situation. There is a certain imbalance, as the Constitution foresaw the election of the president in parliament. Meanwhile, something happened that the Constitution does not take into consideration, the fact that we directly elect the president. And in this sense, it is really high time to also amend the applicable articles in the Constitution. Put simply, to amend it in compliance with the president having a stronger mandate, as he is elected through a direct vote.
I think that this should be done as soon as possible; because, for example, during the election campaign we get into tight corner-situations which misrepresent the importance of the direct election of the president and also the dignity of this office. This disturbs the political culture.
DB: It is necessary to enhance the president’s powers, especially in strengthening the veto when evaluating laws passed by parliament. The vetoed bills have to be worked over, not only be repeatedly voted in the Slovak parliament.
TSS: In the event you are elected, what do you intend to bring to this position? What will your priorities be?
IG: My program “I think nationally, I feel socially”, which helped me to win the 2004 election has proven right and I want to continue it. What Slovakia needs in time of crisis is mainly social security and solidarity. On the record of my five-year term as president I offer, to Slovakia and its citizens, stability, continuity, and my experience earned in 20 years of political activity.
I want to continue defending national-state interests and representing Slovakia abroad in a dignified way.
I am happy that I have managed to make very good relations with the government and parliament, as without effective cooperation between the president, the speaker of parliament and the prime minister, the state could not run well and adopt solutions to the benefit of Slovakia’s citizens. And I am sure that this cooperation must be continued.
IR: Public opinion has signalled some satisfaction with President Ivan Gašparovič. I respect this as a signal that people are content with this way of executing the office. Of course, I have an idea what added value I would give to the execution of the office. There is a need of certain continuity, but also the added value of improving the execution of this position.
And this, in my opinion, is to loudly describe the problems of Slovakia and its citizens and to search for a consensus to solve them. And to also actively solve the impacts of the financial crisis, not only for today but also for the future. To execute the presidential position actively, as a protector of citizens, a defender of justice. To prevent conflicts and resolve conflicts so that there is no tension in society, but rather solidarity and trust. To responsibly represent abroad the small but strong Slovakia, which cooperates with partners and is responsible towards allies.
Also to reduce the absolute energy dependency on the Russian Federation; to achieve that diversification of energy resources is the priority task of the EU. To make standard conditions for mutual trade within EU countries. I also want to pursue the issue of landscape creation which closely relates to issues and troubles in our agriculture. For me, the issue of social security, of health care, and support for quality education are important.
FM: I want to bring freedom to the implementation and carrying out of this position.
ZM: To work and push through good proposals a president must have strong teams of experts. Thus, as a president, I would establish, immediately after taking up my position, six teams headed by renowned experts. Advisory teams for the economy and finance, the social sphere, health care, education, regions, and foreign policy.
Secondly, I would enhance my network of free social advisory services. Today, my ten advisory services operate free of charge. I would change them to Presidential advisory services in every district centre, so that they are even closer to people who need help. I keep saying that a politician can learn the most useful things outside, outdoors. When he or she talks to common people about their problems and tries to solve them. For me, these advisory services have already been an enormous source of information and ideas to change incomplete and bad laws.
Thirdly, if the president knows the problems of people and has the help of expert advisors, he or she can influence the legislative process even before the laws are passed – through the government, ministers, the speaker of parliament and MPs. An active president can positively influence solutions to the benefit of people.
MM: A civic society, developing democratically, which enjoys respect in international relationships and which has secured acceptable conditions for the economic, social, and also educational and cultural development of its citizens – these are priorities. My contribution to their fulfilment? To serve citizens and not political parties or one’s own welfare. I want to be a president of the citizens, and not the president of the government, a coalition, or the opposition, or even president of some political party.
MS: If elected, I would like to participate in an effort to make all citizens respect the office of president: young and elderly, veterans of the Second World War in the west as well as in the east. And so on, and so forth.
I would like to bring the dimension of cohesiveness into the neighbouring international relations and to build good neighbourly relations with all. I would like us to not only connect Slovakia with just its southern, although very kind partner, Hungary. I would like to participate in making better relations especially with Slavonic countries (the Czech Republic, Poland and Ukraine) which have a big potential not only in size but also in those basic commodities which we will need in upcoming decades. I mean oil and gas, but also other commodities.
DB: I will bring to this position the power of personality and especially of will when solving priorities: to incite and direct a common effort to preserve the nation and state; to end the state policy of liberalism and monetarism which has lead us to the current situation and which stands in the way of solving the vital problems of citizens.
TSS: Which country would you visit first and why – if elected?
IG: We have a tradition that the first visit heads for our western neighbours, to the Czech Republic. I think it is natural, considering our bonds with the Czechs.
IR: My very first place would be private; I would visit Stanko (Editor’s note: her late husband) at the cemetery. Of the official visits, the first one would be to the Czech Republic, then next to our other neighbours, as we do have a common task – to look for solutions for the impacts of the economic and financial crisis and the impacts of the energy crisis. These must be solved immediately. As for the domestic politics, I would appear before the MPs and the public with a vision for the next five years and with the so-called Report on the State of the Republic, that is, with what I perceive as the achievements and failures in the previous period, what I think we have not been solving and what we should solve, and what I perceive as the crucial issues for Slovakia today and for the next five years. These would be my first steps.
FM: The Czech Republic, as it is our closest friend.
ZM: The tradition of the first foreign visit of new president to the Czech Republic is very nice, and I would surely keep it. I would plan the second visit to Budapest. Slovak-Hungarian relations on the top level are very bad and it is the presidents of both countries who could send positive signals to citizens. Here, again, it is necessary that the president is independent. A president supported by the SNS, or another one supported by SMK, will hardly solve disputes impartially.
MM: The tradition is to visit the Czech Republic and I respect this tradition and honour it. However, I know that our friends from the Czech Republic would understand – in terms of our best imaginable neighbourly relations – that first, the neighbour whom we sort of “banged the door in front of his nose” must be addressed. We should at least offer our hand and show – here I am, I do not want to build on old pains, I offer my hand and dialogue. You surely know that by this I mean the Hungarian Republic.
MS: I would like to preserve the tradition that has been created in Slovakia. I consider such a traditional first visit abroad to be heading to our neighbour who we understand best, the Czech Republic.
DB: The closeness of culture and language, long years of common history will lead me for my first visit to the Czech Republic.
TSS: Is it correct that in Slovakia the president is elected by direct vote and that the official campaign lasts for just two weeks?
IG: The direct election of president in relation to citizens and their level of responsibility towards their own future is the most just way. The fact that the official election campaign can start only two weeks before the election is a matter of law. To speak now, a few days before the elections, about amending the law would not be good. To change any election law, a common will and readiness throughout the whole political spectrum is necessary.
IR: The direct election gives the president greater legitimacy and it would also be the reaction of political parties to pitfalls connected with the choice of president in the parliament. Let me remind you how undignified the elections of the president in the Czech Republic were. However, the election law has to be amended, as it includes an absurdity that the election campaign can last basically non-stop, with the exception of period between official registration of a candidate with the Speaker of Parliament and the beginning of the official campaign.
FM: The direct election of president is right, as it gives a true picture of Slovakia. I have not thought thoroughly about the two weeks of the official campaign.
ZM: The direct election of president is a correct democratic choice. We adopted it so that the president is above all disputes of the parties, above the duels that the government leads daily with its opposition. So that president is the ambassador of all citizens in top-level politics and responsible to the people, not to the political parties.
The law on the election of the president is very bad. The time limitation of the campaign is counter to democracy. In two weeks people have no chance to get to know the candidates and it is true that only a well-informed citizen can decide well. Two weeks are a desperately short time.
MM: The whole Act on Elections is one big mistake. I am not satisfied with the existence of such deformed legal norms. The direct vote is a right decision, but the two-week campaign is foolish. A trivial yoghurt product is promoted for a longer time when newly launched on the market so that consumers can notice it.
MS: It is definitely a big flaw (a campaign lasting for just thirteen days) and maybe even a big mistake. If we aspire for democratic models, like the US, France, or Great Britain, we should definitely think differently. I don’t mean any huge campaigns, but if in the US the presidential candidate prepares and makes his/her campaign for a year, if the French candidate has the campaign lasting for about six months, then I think our 13 days are really pitifully little, and this undermines the authority of our elections in a very significant way.
DB: The advantage of direct election of president when compared with other forms is unquestioned. The campaigning period limited by law is not executable; complaints concerning its violation are not claimable. The law has to be amended.
TSS: Do you intend to help solve the current economic crisis in any way? If yes, in what way?
IG: The fight against the economic crisis and its impacts on citizens must be the priority of each and every one of us, and it is also a part of my everyday activity. I think that good collaboration between the government, parliament and the president plays a big role here. Thus, I am glad that we all three – the Prime Minister, the Speaker of Parliament and me – managed to agree that our unequivocal effort must be to preserve the rate of employment, to revive economic growth and to keep the social programs.
I am convinced that government measures to support business (for example, tax relief, the shortened period for VAT refunds, simplifying the documentation and a later deadline for filing tax returns), implementation of PPP projects for highway and motorway construction and better drawing of EU funds will be the impetus for getting our economy to move. The decision on founding the Economic Crisis Council was made on January 23 in the Presidential palace. I not only supported the creation of this council, but I twice directly took part in its sessions – on February 2 and February 16. My personal contribution was also the signing of all anti-crisis measures that had been approved by the Slovak parliament.
IR: The state cannot prevent someone from laying off employees, but there are proper tools so that it is more profitable for employers to keep and create jobs than to fire people. For example, by reducing costs for employment, making credits more available and by directing state support into branches that have future. We are a country which has experienced many history-breaking and difficult times. And now, there is no easy period awaiting us, either, but we can use the crisis – if we take it as a challenge – to simultaneously come closer to our target – a society good for life.
The crisis is a challenge and it also must be a motivation. In hard times, we need a vision which will not just help us to overcome the crisis but one that will also move Slovakia forwards.
The president’s office should initiate and create space for pressuring through measures which will support public investment in networks of schools, hospitals and construction of blocks of flats financed by speedy and transparent drawing of EU funds. The second pension pillar can also help us finance these – thanks to public obligations in which the DSSs, the pension fund administration companies, would invest and thus finance these investments.
I will also support systemic standard tools: increasing the deductible amount; strengthening the employment bonus as help for every employee, not only those made redundant or threatened by redundancies; prolonging the drawing of unemployment benefits from 6 to 12 months; reducing social insurance and health care premiums either in the form of a deductible item or through a direct reduction.
FM: I want to be compassionate with all those who have been touched by crisis.
ZM: Currently, the financial and economic crisis is the substantial problem. The government adopts its measures and the opposition comes up with its own proposals. It must be said that both sides have both better and worse solutions. However, due to their own political interests, they are not able to sit down at one table. In Slovakia, there is currently not a single person who could make them cooperate and host their discussions.
In our own economic agenda we have reducing the income tax to 17 percent which would not bring an immediate effect; but from the medium and long-term perspective it is important. Reducing social and health care premiums, administrative complexity, support for the self-employed, family companies, enforceability of laws – these all are inevitable measures also in times of growth but even hotter in the current period.
MM: One should never pretend to be a jack-of-all-trades. I am a chemist, a food-processing expert, not an economist. My help would rather be to concentrate experts, address politicians with the experts’ opinions, to oversee workgroups which can solve the impacts of crisis and try to adopt measures to lessen it. And first of all – as the president, I have the duty to watch how unemployment develops and how the social conditions are adapted in Slovakia’s regions and in all of its ethnic groups. And not just to watch, but also to alert the government and parliament about it.
MS: I am answering this question although I am aware that it is not in the power of president to solve it. It is within the president’s authority to surround himself with a team of people, and together with the executive, to propose certain measures. The president cannot solve social issues, but he can help raise social as well as economic questions.
DB: The state policy in managing the economy has so far gradually stripped the executive of responsibility and shifted it to foreign structures. I will help by an open and direct call on the nation to return back to its roots, with its own sense and its own powers to take over the responsibility for itself, to ask from the state the same, so that the impacts of the crisis are not tragic.
Especially, this concerns the revitalisation of soil, use of the natural rent from our own resources, and substantial improvement in the educational and instructional process. I will incite and support steps towards these solutions through the weight of my position.