“THIS is a referendum about Smer,” said Prime Minister Robert Fico shortly after the official presidential candidate of the ruling party learned he will face philanthropist Andrej Kiska in the second round run-off scheduled for March 29. Though Fico won the first round of the election with 28 percent of the vote with 531,919 people backing him, Kiska finished just 4 percent behind at 24 percent, backed by 455,996 voters.
Fico said little about the specifics of the results in the March 15 vote, in which he failed to carry anywhere near the percentage his Smer party in the 2012 parliamentary elections. With opposition forces now likely to coalesce around Kiska in the second round, the race is likely to remain tight. “I expect the run-off to be very interesting,” said Fico early March 16 as quoted by TASR newswire adding that the “opposition would support even the devil against me”.
Radoslav Procházka, independent candidate and former member of the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), came in third at 21.2 percent (403,548 votes), Milan Kňažko, independent candidate and a leader in the Velvet Revolution, came in fourth with earned the support of 12.9 percent of voters (244,401 votes) followed by the nominee of the Party of Hungarian Community (SMK) Gyula Bárdos at 5.1 percent of the vote (97,035 votes), according to the official results announced by the Central Election Commission on March 16. Once considered a serious contender, Pavol Hrušovský, and the official candidate of the People’s Platform alliance of opposition parties garnered a mere 3.33 percent of the vote.
According to the official results, 43.4 percent of the voters voted in the election.
Several other candidates received votes, although far from enough to be a major factor in the race. Helena Mezenská took 2.4 percent, Ján Jurišta 0.6 percent, Ján Čarnogurský 0.6 percent, Viliam Fischer 0.5 percent, Jozef Behýl 0.5 percent, Milan Melník 0.4 percent, Jozef Šimko 0.2 percent and Stanislav Martinčko 0.1 percent.
KDH leader Ján Figeľ has already said that his party will support Kiska in round two, while the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) chief Pavol Frešo has said that the priority of his party is to prevent Smer from taking all the highest constitutional posts in the country, meaning they too will back Kiska. The Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) will back Kiska as well. Kňažko has restated his earlier promise that he would provide his billboards to any candidate who advances to the second round to face Fico.
Kiska has said he expects a tough race ahead while he announced that he is preparing a criminal complaint against Fico over his statements in a recent televised debate featuring the presidential candidates, where Fico claimed that Kiska become rich through usury. He also has said that what he called anti-campaign and “dirty tricks” will in “no way deter me from my effort to change Slovakia”, TASR newswire reported.
“Every support from all people who are convinced that our country should not be run by a single party is pleasing,” Kiska said, according to SITA newswire. He added that in his view these elections are about whether Slovakia will have an independent president.
Kiska described Fico as a traditional politician from whom he expects the use of traditional political tactics.
The day after the vote, Fico told the public service Slovak Television and Radio (RTVS) that he is happy with the 28 percent he harvested in the first round adding that the role of the prime minister indicated as a favourite “on paper” is rather tough.
“As a prime minister who must take tough decisions, lead the one-coloured government and as prime minister from dusk to dawn must stand and solve complicated situations, I did well in the first referendum,” Fico told RTVS.
Grigorij Mesežnikov, president of the Institute of Public Affairs (IVO), agrees that this election is a referendum about Fico and his government, but it seems the referendum did not end favourably for them.
“It turns out that after two years of ruling, Fico does not appeal to his supporters as he did before; moreover, he mobilises his opponents and critics,” Mesežnikov said.
Political analyst Miroslav Kusý called Fico’s result a failure and noted that so far in all the presidential elections the first-round’s favourite entered the run-off with an incomparably higher vote-count.
“It’s the first time that it’s this low,” Kusý said.
When asked about Fico’s performance in the first round, MVK's polling agency Pavel Haulík told The Slovak Spectator that Smer voters might have told themselves that “everything has been decided already and it is not necessary to vote”.
Mesežnikov agreed this was probably one factor, along with the way Smer led the presidential campaign, focusing on discrediting Kiska, mainly towards the end of the campaign, Mesežnikov said, adding that this however did not bring the desired results for Fico. Kiska’s support did not fall – on the contrary, some of the undecided voters might have been motivated to support Kiska as they felt he suffered injustice, Mesežnikov said.
“Fico focused on discrediting Kiska and he did not go very much into his own performance as the future president, just the basic arguments like the need for cooperation and stability,” he told The Slovak Spectator. “But it did not work with his voters.”
What to expect?
Mesežnikov however does not expect a “super aggressive campaign” adding that Fico has failed to discredit Kiska while he also failed to mobilise his own voters thus far.
“But Fico is a confrontational politician and he needs to attack,” Mesežnikov told The Slovak Spectator. Setting the proper tone and deciding what that is will pose a big dilemma for Fico, he said.
Mesežnikov also suggests that Fico will have to change his tactics for pragmatic reasons: “I do not expect larger confrontation and discrediting campaign than in the first round”, he said.
Fico is now perhaps considering his own eventual defeat as well, Mesežnikov said.
“Having in the presidential palace a man whom he insulted and who has sued him is not a good beginning,” he said.
Procházka: Strong message
Shortly after some more telling results poured in during the election night, Procházka said he had three types of feelings. “The weakest is the feeling of disappointment from that we have not managed to make it to the second round,” he said. Then, he however added that feelings of gratitude and obligations are much stronger, TASR newswire reported.
“It is a huge obligation,” Procházka commented to the fact that 400,000 people wished to see him in the presidential palace.
Procházka however suggests that the most important is the message that Slovakia has sent out in these elections and that there is a hope that conditions where justice, order and balance actually rule Slovakia may become a reality.
“Slovakia has sent the message that we are a mature nation which will not allow someone to jump on its head,” Procházka said as quoted by TASR.
Procházka however can still play his role in the presidential election, as his stance in the second round will be very important, Mesežnikov said.
“Now, on the wave of this success, his the feeling of belonging with Radoslav Procházka is higher among his voters,” he said, adding that it is expected a large part of his voters, although not all of them, will support Kiska.
Procházka did not express support to Kiska immediately after the results were announced, and said he make his views public within 48 hours.
Kňažko is grateful
Kňažko thanked his voters and suggested that “now it is important that the one who advances to the second round fulfills his promises”, referring to Kiska. Kňažko said it is important that trust returns to the presidential office and said that Kiska must carry the banner for all the truly democratic candidates.
“So that we again start telling the truth, so that we evoke the hope and trust of those who has lost it,” Kňažko told SITA newswire.
Kňažko said that he will ponder ways not to fail the trust of 200,000 people who voted for him, adding that he will most probably not establish yet another political party: “I would like to find a different way to pay back this support”, he said.
Once considered a top contender to reach the runoff, Hrušovský had a particularly weak showing. “I take it as a defeat,” Hrušovský, who collected only slightly more than 3 percent of the vote. “I would not talk about a fall; it is a defeat.”
Hrušovský suggested that the time will come to analyse his performance however, he does not plan to quit politics: “It is not the end; life in politics goes on”.
16. Mar 2014 at 15:00 | Beata Balogová and Michaela Terenzani