Daily Israel Report

Slovakia Elects First President With No Communist Past

Flamboyant philanthropist Andrej Kiska - who 'flirted' with Judaism and Buddhism - beats leftist PM Robert Fico in landslide victory.
By AFP
First Publish: 3/30/2014, 2:59 PM

Voter prepares ballot (illustrative)
Voter prepares ballot (illustrative)
Reuters

Philanthropist Andrej Kiska swooped in out of the blue to clinch Slovakia's presidency by a landslide, dealing a heavy blow to the credibility of veteran leftist Prime Minister Robert Fico ahead of general elections in 2016.

A non-aligned centrist who made his fortune in the consumer-credit business, the 51-year-old Kiska will be Slovakia's first president since independence in 1993 without a past in the Communist Party.

The millionaire-turned-philanthropist who has given away most of his fortune to charity has vowed to "re-establish the people's trust in the office of president" and "make politics more human".  

Kiska scored 59.4 percent of the vote against 20.6 percent for Fico, the election commission said, pegging turnout at 50.48 percent.

Kiska capitalised on his untainted image and touted himself as a bulwark against a Fico power grab.

Analysts had warned that as president Fico could shepherd a constitutional amendment through a compliant parliament to broaden his powers or even transform Slovakia's parliamentary system into a presidential one.

Slovaks have become increasingly leery of their political class since high-profile corruption allegations in 2011 severely eroded trust in right-wing politicians. The scandal paved the way for a landslide for Fico's Smer-Social Democrats in the 2012 general elections, enabling him to form a one-party government backed by a strong 83-seat independent majority in the 150-member parliament.

But the prospect of Fico and Smer winning control of both parliament and the presidency in Saturday's run-off galvanized opponents in the former communist country of 5.4 million, which joined the European Union in 2004 and the eurozone in 2009.

Now, Kiska's triumph clouds the future for the leftist Fico, who previously enjoyed ironclad popularity, as he gears up for the 2016 general election.

"This election was a referendum on Fico and his government, and he clearly lost it," analyst Grigorij Meseznikov told AFP. "Fico won't resign, he will try to finish his term until 2016, although his authority will be weakened - authoritarian politicians like Fico don't resign willingly."    

But others like Pavol Haulik, an analyst with the independent Bratislava-based MVK pollsters, believe Fico might consider quitting following the crushing defeat.

"The pressure on him will be great," he said.    

For his part, Dag Danis, a pundit with the daily Hospodarske Noviny said that "For the first time, the populist Fico did not notice that the growing trend in public opinion isn't specifically against right-wingers or leftists, but rather against politics in general, him included."    

Fico's defeat even featured in a YouTube video captioned "Bye Bye Fico" and offering parodied version of Pharrell William's global pop music hit "Happy" on Sunday. In it, youths are pictured in various vacation locales jiving to the tune while holding up posters of the premier.    

No immediate risks

While Kiska has no political track record, analysts believe his election signals continuity for Slovakia's staunchly pro-European course.

Outgoing leftist President Ivan Gasparovic, who will hand over to Kiska on June 15, was a low-key head of state during his two five-year terms. 

Though the office is largely ceremonial, the president ratifies international treaties, appoints top judges including the supreme court chief justice and is the commander in chief of the armed forces. The head of state can also veto laws passed by parliament.  

"Kiska is less experienced, but is a mainstream democratic politician," said analyst Mesezenikov, noting that the millionaire has "free-market values and his foreign policy outlook is pro-Western." The only "immediate risk (may be) that the defeated Premier Fico will seek open conflict with him," Mesezenikov warned.

"Kiska's number-one goal now should be to try to unify a very polarised Slovak society," Bratislava-based analyst Eduard Chmelar told AFP, pointing to the divisive election campaign.

Kiska will take office as the economy, driven by electronics and car exports, is set to expand by 2.3 percent this year.

The self-made tycoon with a keen nose for business has revealed bouts of soul-searching and "flirting" with Judaism and Buddhism before returning to Catholicism in his autobiography titled "A Manager's Road from Hell".    

But Fico's bid to paint Kiska as an incompetent political novice dabbling in Scientology - a claim Kiska denies - fell flat with voters.

Arutz Sheva Staff contributed to this report.