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Fico’s presidential Waterloo

PRIME MINISTER Robert Fico will have to swallow a bitter political pill in the next few days after he saw his presidential dream vanquished by a man he had aggressively targeted as a greenhorn and an usurer, and accused of being a Scientologist. Fico was hoping his ruling Smer party could control all the key political posts in the country. Instead he was defeated by a man without any previous political experience.

PRIME MINISTER Robert Fico will have to swallow a bitter political pill in the next few days after he saw his presidential dream vanquished by a man he had aggressively targeted as a greenhorn and an usurer, and accused of being a Scientologist. Fico was hoping his ruling Smer party could control all the key political posts in the country. Instead he was defeated by a man without any previous political experience.

It was not philanthropist and businessman Andrej Kiska who stopped Smer from taking over the country, but rather the people who believed it could not possibly be good for the country for one party to control the government, parliament and presidential palace, not to talk about the army of political nominees who got their jobs at all levels of state administration as parts of Smer’s significant patronage system.

This was no gentle blow that Fico received on March 29, as the Smer leader has experienced his harshest political defeat in a decade after failing to get anywhere near to Kiska’s 59 percent. Political analysts and journalists had predicted a tight race simply because there weren’t many indications that almost 60 percent of Slovakia’s electorate want Fico’s political heyday to end or at least not to penetrate the whole country.

It seems voters want Fico to complete his prime ministerial term under the weight of all the promises he made in the 2012 election, many of which he will most likely not be able to fulfil.

“Well, I have lost,” Fico told journalists while briskly leaving Smer’s headquarters after more than half of the votes were counted and it became clear that his supporters will not have any reason to hoist him above their shoulders as they did after Smer took the country in a landslide in the last general election. Kiska in fact received more votes on March 29 than Fico’s Smer in the last parliamentary elections.

This is a kind of defeat that the group of voters who hunger for a father-of-the-nation-type of politician usually do not forgive. It would be naive to think that this is the end of Fico’s political career, but it is at least the first day of the rest of Fico’s political career.

The “failed presidential candidate” line can be added to his political CV, something much more personal than a loss in parliamentary elections. Fico will have to carry this on his own shoulders even if these “no” votes were meant for his party just as equally as for him.

References to the beginning of the end of Vladimír Mečiar’s career, who lost a presidential race to Rudolf Schuster, now seem irresistible when forecasting how Fico’s career will evolve in the next couple of years in light of his presidential Waterloo.

Still, Mečiar’s decline stretched through many years and in fact it was indeed Fico who resuscitated a moribund Mečiar for a four-year rule in his first government between 2006 and 2010, something that he will not be easily forgiven by voters of the right wing.

Fico is still prime minister of course. His team is most probably working on spinning the election result as favourably as possible. The explanation will almost certainly centre on some version of a mass negative campaign against Fico.

They might be right about the “negative campaign” and its effects on the race, but it was rather the campaign that Smer waged against Kiska that likely confused some voters while irritating and mobilising another.

It was Fico who defined the presidential vote as a “referendum on Smer” and one wonders whether he would still have said that if he had sensed what the outcome of the second round would be. Now the question is, what will Smer do about a referendum that said “no” to the party which has a crushing majority in parliament, controls key posts in the state and has thus far ruled the country with a loyalist as president?

Equally important, though, is what Andrej Kiska is going to do with his victory, how he is going to use the political capital of 1.3 million votes. If he fails to return to the presidential office the political dignity he promised, he would do just as serious harm as Fico would have done. Kiska has a chance, which comes only once in a while, to revive people’s faith in politics, their faith in top offices being good for something other than personal ambitions, inflated egos, thirst for power or self-enrichment.

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