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PRESIDENTIAL VOTE: Profiles of the candidates - 1st part

ON THE IDES of March Slovaks will vote to elect a replacement for President Ivan Gašparovič, whose term expires on June 15. Though the race features 14 presidential candidates, the highest number in the country’s history, opinion polls suggest that the next president will be one of these five: Prime Minister Robert Fico supported by the ruling Smer; Andrej Kiska, a businessman and philanthropist; Milan Kňažko, an actor and leader of the Velvet Revolution; Radoslav Procházka, a former member of the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH); or Pavol Hrušovský, backed by the opposition People’s Platform.

ON THE IDES of March Slovaks will vote to elect a replacement for President Ivan Gašparovič, whose term expires on June 15. Though the race features 14 presidential candidates, the highest number in the country’s history, opinion polls suggest that the next president will be one of these five: Prime Minister Robert Fico supported by the ruling Smer; Andrej Kiska, a businessman and philanthropist; Milan Kňažko, an actor and leader of the Velvet Revolution; Radoslav Procházka, a former member of the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH); or Pavol Hrušovský, backed by the opposition People’s Platform.

Other candidates running for the presidency are: Gyula Bárdos, member of the Party of Hungarian Community; Jozef Behýl, businessman and civil activist; Ján Čarnogurský, former chair of the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH); Viliam Fischer, a cardio-surgeon; Ján Jurišta, former Slovak ambassador to Argentina; Stanislav Martinčko, businessman and chair of the Coalition of Citizens of Slovakia; Milan Melník, scientist; Helena Mezenská, MP for the Ordinary People and Independent Personalities; and Jozef Šimko, mayor of Rimavská Sobota.

The Slovak Spectator provides brief profiles of the presidential candidates.

Robert Fico

Robert Fico was born in 1964 in Topoľčany and in 1986 graduated from Comenius University’s law school. Following his graduation, Fico worked at the nLaw Institute of the Justice Ministry, and also served as an agent representing Slovakia before the European Court of Human Rights and the European Commission for Human Rights. He was politically active from a young age, joining the Communist Party of Slovakia in 1987.

After the Velvet Revolution, he became a member of the Slovak Democratic Left (SDĽ) party. He was first elected as an MP in 1992. In 1998 he was elected deputy chairman of the party. Later the same year, Fico ran for the post of general prosecutor, but his party endorsed another candidate instead, arguing Fico was too young.

In the 1998 elections that saw the fall of the government of Vladimir Mečiar, Fico received the biggest number of preferential votes among his party colleagues, and in 1999 he left the party, saying he was disappointed with the way the government worked.

Fico acted as an independent MP until the 2002 elections. Almost immediately after leaving SDĽ, however, he founded Smer, which he first labelled a party of the third way.

Between 2002-2006 Smer was the main opposition party in the Slovak parliament. In 2004, it
swallowed up nearly all the leftist parties active on the Slovak political scene, including SDĽ.

In 2006 Smer won the elections and formed a government with Mečiar’s HZDS party and the nationalists of the Slovak National Party (SNS). Fico served as prime minister until the end of the term in 2010. After a brief moment in the opposition, he returned to the prime-ministerial chair in 2012. At the end of 2013 he announced his presidential candidacy.

“I understand my candidacy as a service to Slovakia,” Fico said on December 18 during his address delivered to media, members of his government, members of parliament and foreign
diplomats accredited in Slovakia. Fico argued that he does not see his candidacy as an adventure, an escape or an attempt to culminate his political career.

His campaign runs under the motto “Ready for Slovakia”.

Andrej Kiska

Kiska is PM Robert Fico’s most likely opponent in the run-off. The media typically refer to Kiska as a millionaire and philanthropist. Born in Poprad on February 2, 1963, Kiska has a degree in electro-technical engineering, but he made his career and fortune in the consumer lending business. In 1996-2005 he and his brother founded and ran the hire-purchase companies Triangel and Quatro, the first ones on the market. Kiska sold his shares in the two companies in 2005 to found a charity project, Dobrý Anjel (Good Angel), along with his friend, businessman Igor Brosman. Kiska claims he put Sk30 million (about €1 million) into the project at its start. Before long Dobrý Anjel became very successful.

Kiska was awarded the title Manager of the Year in 2006 and in 2011 he won the Crystal Wing prize for philanthropy.

He decided to run for president in 2012, and left Dobrý Anjel in May 2013. When explaining why he decided to run, he sticks with his charity-related image. He also denies claims that he has used the charity project to build his political career.

Kiska has faced criticism for his past business dealings involving Triangel and Quatro, with his critics likening them to a loan shark operation. Kiska argues that his model indeed created a system of hire-purchase loans with affordable instalments, so “that people were able to buy a television or a car, because not everybody had the available cash to do so”.

He was the first to officially announce his presidential candidacy and his billboards appeared around Slovakia long before the names of his competitors were known. He is running as an independent candidate and has no political background whatsoever.

Kiska has stressed his lack of political involvement as one of his strengths, while his website features the slogan “The First Independent President”.

Milan Kňažko

Kňažko was born on August 28, 1945 in Horné Plachtince. He graduated from the Academy of Performing Arts (VŠMU) in Bratislava and has had a notable career as a movie and theatre actor. Due to his opposition to the communist regime, Kňažko was the only artist who actually returned the title of “merited artist” in 1989. Kňažko has never been a member of the Communist Party and he considers it a fundamental problem when a former member of the Communist Party runs for president.

In 1989, Kňažko entered politics as one of the faces of the Velvet Revolution. He served as an advisor to former Czechoslovak president Václav Havel and as MP in the Czechoslovak federal parliament. In 1990 he briefly served as the minister of international relations of Slovakia, and in 1992-93 he became deputy PM and Slovak foreign affairs minister.

After the break-up of the federation in 1993 he served as an MP until October 1998 and in 1998-2002 as culture minister.

He was one of the founding members of Public Against Violence (VPN) in 1989, the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) in 1991 and the Democratic Union as well as the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) in 2000. Politically, one of the most discussed aspects of Kňažko’s past is his affiliation with HZDS, which Kňažko was involved with during its early years. However, Kňažko has washed his hands of any responsibility for helping Vladimír Mečiar into the prime ministerial seat. In 2002 Kňažko left politics and returned to acting. He served as general director of the private JOJ television from 2003-2007.

Kňažko is officially running as an independent candidate but he failed to collect the necessary 15,000 signatures in time to meet the tight deadline, so he was nominated by 19 opposition MPs. The main motto of Kňažko’s election campaign is: “There is much at stake again”, hinting at his role in the 1989 revolution.

Radoslav Procházka

Procházka was born on March 31, 1972 in Bratislava. Aged 41, Procházka is one of the youngest of the candidates, which he also stressed in the initial stage of his billboard campaign. Procházka was among the first to announce his candidacy, a full year before the term of the current president ends.

Procházka has not been in politics for long, especially when compared to most of his main opponents in the presidential race. He ran in the parliamentary elections in 2010 on the slate of the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) and made it into parliament. Later, however, he fell out with the party leadership. He then established what he called a reformist group within the party, named Alfa, but in February 2013 he decided to quit the party altogether.

His time in politics was preceded by a notable career in law. He is one of the most respected experts on constitutional law. As a lawyer, Procházka represented those opposing the dissolution of the Special Court before the Constitutional Court.

He specialises in constitutional law, European law and the protection of human rights. Between 2004 and 2006, Procházka represented Slovakia before the European Court of Justice (ECJ). Prior to that, he represented the country in the Venice Commission’s subcommission for constitutional justice in 2001-2002.

Despite his split from the KDH, Procházka claims that when it comes to values, he is a Christian Democrat and a practising Christian. He admits he is a traditionalist, but unlike the hard-line traditionalists from his former party, he is slightly more open to discussion, for instance, about non-heterosexual partnerships.

His campaign runs under the slogan: “Strong president. I will protect your rights.”

Pavol Hrušovský

Hrušovský was born on June 9, 1952 in the southern-Slovak municipality of Veľká Maňa, in the district of Nové Zámky. He is a lawyer by profession, and a graduate of the law school of Comenius University in Bratislava.

In 1990, he went into politics as a member of the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH). Hrušovský started as a representative in the federal assembly in 1990, and after the elections in 1992 became an MP of the Slovak national parliament. When the era of Vladimír Mečiar ended in 1998, Hrušovský was part of the ruling coalition led by prime minister Mikuláš Dzurinda, serving as deputy speaker of parliament.

Since then, when the KDH was part of the ruling coalition, Hrušovský was never considered for a cabinet post, but he always held an important post in parliament. In 2002-2006 he served as the speaker of parliament. Under the Radičová government he was the deputy speaker, and after the fall of the government in October 2011, he replaced Richard Sulík in the post of the speaker, which he held until the March 2012 elections.

Since 1999 he was a deputy chair of KDH and in 2000 he was elected as chairman to replace Ján Čarnogurský, now one of his opponents in the presidential race. Hrušovský chaired the KDH until 2009, when he was replaced by the current chairman, former EU commissioner Ján Figeľ.

Hrušovský entered the race with the support of the KDH and Most-Híd, while the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) was the last of the People’s Platform trio to join in supporting him as a candidate.

Hrušovský’s campaign runs under the slogan “The choice of the right”.

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PRESIDENTIAL VOTE: Profiles of the candidates - 2nd part

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