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EDITORIAL

The winds of change?

ROBERT Fico, Slovakia’s prime minister burning with presidential ambitions, was quieter than usual on March 15. Though Fico won the first round, there was no jolly crowd to hoist the Smer leader on their shoulders as they did at party headquarters in 2012 – when Fico returned as prime minister after a landslide general election victory.

ROBERT Fico, Slovakia’s prime minister burning with presidential ambitions, was quieter than usual on March 15. Though Fico won the first round, there was no jolly crowd to hoist the Smer leader on their shoulders as they did at party headquarters in 2012 – when Fico returned as prime minister after a landslide general election victory.

Fico’s calmer mood corresponded with the performance of his opponents. Andrej Kiska, a political novice, picked up 24 percent of the vote, just behind Fico’s 28 percent. That thin margin offered little reason for celebration.

It is actually not only Kiska’s showing that is giving Fico headaches, but also that of Radoslav Procházka, independent candidate and former member of the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), who came in third at 21.2 percent, and Milan Kňažko, independent candidate and leader of the Velvet Revolution, who came in fourth with 12.9 percent of vote. Kňažko and Procházka are likely to endorse Kiska. Meanwhile, the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) and its surprisingly weak candidate Pavol Hrušovský, the official candidate of the People’s Platform alliance of opposition parties, have already pledged to support Kiska.

The Ides of March has melted some of the scepticism over the country’s ability to produce a genuine political opponent for Fico. Indeed, it was Fico who opened the door by aspiring to extend his power to the presidential palace. What happened on March 15 was that he actually heard a “no”. Not a resounding “no”, but enough of a “no” to shake Fico’s own confidence.

There is something vulnerable about self-declared fathers of the nation like Vladimír Mečiar and Fico. They are nurtured by the perception of strength and the illusionary protection they allege to provide to their voters. But once there is a visible crack in this image, they start melting like snowmen in early March, taking their parties along with them into oblivion. It is not possible to tell at this point if this is what we are witnessing with Fico now, but for the first time such signs are beginning to appear.

Fico was quick to announce that the presidential election is indeed a referendum about Smer. He doubtlessly tried with his statements to mobilise all those voters who before the first round might have thought that Fico simply does not need their helping hand to defeat Kiska, Procházka and Kňažko. By doing so, however, the prime minister is putting all his political capital at stake. If he fails to make it to the presidential palace, that capital will begin to depreciate, much as it did for Mečiar when he lost his presidential race against Rudolf Schuster in 1999.

Mečiar returned briefly to the corridors of power in 2006, when Fico brought him back as his dubious partner to rule along with the nationalist Slovak National Party (SNS). But this only prolonged Mečiar’s agony in politics before his party completely disappeared in 2013.

Along with Kiska, Procházka is the second big winner of the first round and there is no doubt that the ambitious Yale law school graduate is going to use his strong showing as a springboard in the upcoming months and years, perhaps for founding a political party, and appeal to those disappointed right-wing voters who, if parliamentary elections were to be held tomorrow, would have a very hard time deciding which existing party they might support.

Though Hrušovský’s performance (just 3.3 percent of the vote) came across as rather tragicomic, it was in no way unexpected, and the fact that he managed to pick up even fewer votes than the pre-election polls indicated suggests that not even voters of the KDH are sufficiently satisfied with any old Christian-Democrat parroting about traditional family. They too are seeking a personality with at least a touch of charisma. Potential Hrušovský voters likely gave Procházka a helping hand and as a former KDH member himself, he was also able to offer things Hrušovský could not.

Nothing is decided yet and Fico could still march to the presidential palace at the end of March. He has at least one thing right: the second round will be a referendum, but not only about Smer; it will be a referendum on whether Slovakia wishes to have one party and one man pulling all the important strings in the country, and whether the country will show Fico that not even the strength of the fathers of the nation is ever-lasting, especially if it is used for the wrong purpose or to the benefit of a narrow group of loyalists.

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