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Slovak premier, philanthropist to vie in second round of presidential polls

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Published : 2014-03-16 20:54
Updated : 2014-03-16 20:54

BRATISLAVA (AFP) ― Prime Minister Robert Fico and millionaire-philanthropist Andrej Kiska will face off March 29 in the second round of Slovakia’s presidential election after clinching the top two spots in voting Saturday.

Fico scored 28 percent of the vote in round one compared to Kiska’s 24 percent, the SME newspaper reported, based on complete results from the election commission.

“Fico is the winner on paper but Kiska is the real winner here,” Marian Lesko, a Bratislava-based analyst said, adding that round two “will be a referendum on Fico.”

The prospect of Fico and his Smer-Social Democrats monopolizing power has galvanized both politicians and voters in the country of 5.4 million, which joined the European Union in 2004 and the eurozone in 2009.

A win for the popular Fico, a 49-year-old ex-communist, would mean the presidency, parliament and government will be controlled by the same party for the first time since Slovakia won independence in 1993.

Analysts also warn that Fico could try to amend the constitution to boost presidential powers and transform the parliamentary system into a presidential one.

“The opposition would back the devil against me,” Fico said Saturday, after final results were announced, adding he expected a “very interesting” runoff.

Kiska, 51, is capitalizing on his image as an untainted political greenhorn to challenge the popular Fico.

“All voters who supported candidates who did not make it in the first round will have a reason to back Kiska against Fico in the run off,” Lesko said, pointing to runners up three and four who scored 34 percent. The move could make Kiska unbeatable.

A non-partisan with no communist past, Kiska is also seen as having a good nose for business and as being incorruptible due to the fact that he has given much of his self-made fortune to charity.

“I want to be a good candidate for all the people whose candidates didn’t make it in the first round,” said a jubilant Kiska, adding he wanted to “counterbalance the government.”

A veteran leftist Fico has, however, earned considerable political capital during his six years as premier in the eurozone country following an anti-austerity agenda tempered by fiscal discipline.

The Slovak economy is set to expand by 2.3 percent this year, driven by its exports of electronics and cars.

Worried about a power grab, long-time Fico supporter Hubert Bystricky, unemployed at 57, said he voted against the premier on Saturday.

“He’s a good politician but I don‘t want him to have all the power in the country,” Bystricky said in Bratislava, adding that he chose the “weakest candidate as a gesture of protest”.

A Fico win would trigger a reshuffle in the Social Democrat government, but the party would still control a comfortable 83-seat majority in the 150-member parliament until general elections in 2016.

“Any of Fico’s successors, who are effectively his subordinates at the moment, would still view him as their boss after taking up the premier‘s job,”

Marian Lesko, an analyst with the Trend business weekly, said.

At a polling station in the capital Bratislava, pensioner Karol Janostiak, 75, backed Fico, pointing to his experience and penchant for generous social welfare spending.

“I expect him to improve healthcare and education and help push for higher pensions,” he said.

Kiska’s supporters meanwhile believe that with his track record of making a fortune only to give it away, he is immune to the kind of corruption allegations that have tainted Slovakia’s right-wing politicians.

“He’s revealed everything about his past, he‘s independent, not backed by any party and he’s a good manager,” another pensioner Bozena Kleckova said.

Should he win, the centrist Kiska would become the first Slovak president without a communist party past since independence.

Both Fico and Kiska label themselves as euro-enthusiasts, so any outcome will likely seal Slovakia‘s pro-EU foreign policy.

The next president will be sworn in on June 15, when leftist President Ivan Gasparovic’s second term ends.

Full official results will be announced Sunday morning. Turnout Saturday was 43.4 percent, the election commission said.

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