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Slovakian Presidential Election: Is there an upset on the cards?

The Slovakian Presidential election is going to take place over two rounds on 16th and 30th March 2019. This is the fifth direct election of the President in Slovakia’s history. There are 13 candidates running for the office, coming from various ideological and professional backgrounds. At the end of this article, you will find the recent polls as well as a comment about the likely outcome of the election.

Role of the President

Slovakia is a parliamentary republic, meaning that the role and power of the Presidential office is limited and often seen as rather ceremonial. Nevertheless, the President holds certain powers – ranging from a formal appointment of the Prime Minister & the Cabinet (on the recommendation of the Prime Minister), and appointment of positions like supreme court judges, procurators, professors, and university rectors for example. The President is also able to veto any bill passed by the National Council (Parliament), although, this can be overridden if the bill obtains a majority of votes during a second vote. In addition, the President is also the (formal) Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces.

Electoral System

The Presidential election takes place every five years. The election itself has a two-round method, meaning that unless a candidate receives 50% plus 1 of votes in the first round, a second round vote has to take place, where all but the top two candidates are eliminated (in a similar way to France). Presidents are limited to two terms.

Incumbent President

The incumbent President, Andrej Kiska (strictly independent, but close to ALDE/EPP) has been President since 2014. He has decided not to run again but promised not to disappear from politics. Some speculate that he may be the lead candidate of a PS+Spolu (ALDE/EPP) coalition in 2020 Parliamentary election, while others suggest that he will form his own party which will create an alliance with PS (ALDE) and Spolu (EPP). Kiska is well known for his strong pro-EU and pro-NATO stances and criticism of the Kremlin including Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Kiska recommends his supporters should back ‘democratic’ candidates – Mistrík (*-ALDE/EPP) or Čaputová (PS-ALDE) – however, now supports Čaputová (PS-ALDE) as Mistík stepped down in her favour.

The Candidates

Maroš Šefčovič (Smer-S&D): (Currently polling at: 17% (AKO), 22% (Focus))

Šefčovič is the candidate of the largest governing party Smer (S&D). He is a diplomat and he currently serves as the Vice-President of the European Commission and as European Commissioner for the Energy Union. He has held various Commissioner roles since 2009. Prior to that, he served as a diplomat in Zimbabwe, Canada and Israel, and, served as a Slovakian Permanent Representative to the EU. In 2018, he had briefly entered into the Spitzenkandidaten battle for S&D Group in the European Parliament, however, he later withdrew from the battle and endorsed Frans Timmermans (PvdA-S&D).

Šefčovič is strongly pro-EU and supports progressive and reformist policies, with a focus on social justice and equality. He stresses the importance of compassion, humanity and calls for a consensus in society.

Zuzana Čaputová (PS-ALDE): (supported by SaS (ECR), Spolu (EPP), SMK (EPP), SKOK (ALDE), the leadership of OLaNO (ECR) and the incumbent President Kiska (*-ALDE/EPP). (Currently polling at: 53% (AKO), 45% (Focus))

Čaputová is the candidate of the newest liberal-centrist party PS-ALDE. She is a Vice-Chairman of PS and is a lawyer. She became publicly known in 2016 when she was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize for her involvement in a public-interest case that involved a waste dump in Western Slovakia. As a lawyer, she was also involved in the overturn of ex-PM Mečiar’s amnesties (who used his temporary Presidential powers to cover crimes linked to his government). She is strongly pro-EU, pro-NATO and endorses ‘liberal democratic’ values. In her campaign, she focuses on justice, environmental protection, social reform and the fight against corruption.

Štefan Harabin (Independent, ideologically close to ECR/ENF): (Currently polling at: 11% (AKO), 12% (Focus))

Harabin is currently a judge who has previously been involved in law, ranging from being an attorney to serving as a Chief Justice of Slovakia. In 2006, he was appointed as a Minister of Justice by HZDS-ALDE. After serving in the Cabinet, he returned to his judiciary role. In recent years, he has become popular on social media, especially with right-wing communities. Harabin can be generally described as a conservative, pro-Kremlin Eurosceptic, as well as a vocal critic of NATO and US foreign policy. In his campaign, he stresses his traditional conservative Christian values (wants to tighten abortion law, rejects civil partnerships/same-sex marriage, etc.), migration, criticism of NGOs and on the ‘moral breakdown’ of society. It is likely that he will set up a new political party if he does not succeed in the Presidential election.

František Mikloško (Independent-EPP): (Supported by KDH-EPP and OKS-ECR) (Currently polling at 3% (AKO), 4% (Focus))

Mikloško is an independent candidate who is a former member of KDH-EPP, former MP (1990-2010) and a former Speaker of the National Council. He became famous due to his opposition to the communist regime in Czechoslovakia, his involvement in the Velvet Revolution, and his role in pro-religious freedom protests after 1989. In addition, he was very vocal in opposition to the populist PM Mečiar. He is a strong supporter of EU and NATO integration. He has already run for the Presidency in the 2004 and 2009 Presidential elections, receiving 7% and 5% respectively. Mikloško can be characterised as a traditional Christian Democrat.

Marian Kotleba (ĽSNS-NI): (Currently polling at: 6% (AKO), 8% (Focus))

Kotleba is an MP and leader of the far-right, national-populist ĽSNS-NI. Before he became involved in far-right organisations, Kotleba worked as a teacher. He was a founder of ‘Slovak Togetherness’ which has been dissolved by the Highest Court due to extremism. Latterly, he has set up his new party ĽSNS-NI and became publicly known due to the organisation of far-right meetings and protests. He became the elected Governor of Banská Bystrica Region in 2013. His party received 8% of the votes in 2016 Parliamentary election and currently polls at around 8-9%. Kotleba, as well as ĽSNS, are presently being investigated by the police due to extremist views. In his campaign, he stresses his anti-EU, anti-NATO, ‘anti-LGBT’, anti-immigration views and calls for a referendum on leaving both the EU and NATO.

Béla Bugár (Most-Híd-EPP): (Currently polling at 4% (AKO), 4% (Focus))

Bugár is MP, chairman of Hungarian-ethnic Most-Híd-EPP party and the Deputy Speaker of the National Council (Parliament). He became an MP back in 1990 for MKDM-EPP, which then merged into SMK-EPP. He was a Chairman of SMK-EPP from 1998 until 2007, later losing the position due to refusal to cooperate with Hungarian Fidesz-EPP. In 2009, he left SMK-EPP and created a new party Most-Híd-EPP, which entered parliament after the 2010 Parliamentary elections. Bugár is strongly pro-EU and pro-NATO. In his campaign, he stresses out the importance of community, individual freedom, and tolerance. As a President, he claims to want to stand up to extremism, nationalism and intolerance.

Current Polling

First Round:

Second Round:

Likely outcomes?

The polls are telling us that Zuzana Čaputová (PS-ALDE) and Maroš Šefčovič (Smer-S&D) are the two top runners. The AKO poll suggests that Čaputová can achieve more than 50% in the first round – meaning that the second round is not going to be necessary. However, as many lawyers pointed out, the law is not written clearly, and the electoral commission stated that 50% of votes at 100% turnout is needed in order to win in the first round – which is extremely unlikely as the turnout never exceeds 55-65%.

In addition, many journalists and political scientists have pointed out that Harabin (Independent, ideologically close to ECR/ENF) has a high chance of entering the second round, and that Šefčovič’s second place confirmed in polls is not certain. This is due to Harabin’s targeting of Smer as well as SNS voters. Many SNS voters supported Šefčovič (Smer-S&D) at the time of last polling took place, however, ever since then, many high-profile SNS MPs have spoken in support of Harabin. In addition to this, 15-20% of voters are still undecided, so the outcome of the election in the 1st round could be quite different to the numbers in recent polls.

Follow Europe Elects for all the coverage of both elections.

Tomas is a member of the Europe Elects team and helps lead our coverage of Slovakian politics.

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