by Manuel Alvarez-Rivera, Puerto Rico
Voters in Slovakia went to the polls today for a presidential election, but the outcome will almost certainly be decided in a runoff vote next April 4. Normally, a second round between the candidates arriving in first and second place would be held if no candidate won an absolute majority of valid votes in the first round of voting, but last February the Slovak Central Election Commission (UVK) ruled that an absolute majority of all eligible voters was required in order to secure a first round victory.
Election results links are now available at the bottom of this posting, under Update.
Like most European countries, Slovakia - which attained independence in 1993, following the peaceful dissolution of the Czechoslovak (or as the Slovaks had it, Czecho-Slovak) federation - has a parliamentary form of government, under which executive power is exercised by the prime minister and a cabinet of ministers responsible to the National Council (Slovakia's unicameral parliament), while the presidency is a largely ceremonial office. Originally, the president was elected every five years by a three-fifths majority in the National Council, but direct presidential elections were introduced ten years ago, following repeated unsuccessful attempts to choose a new head of state during the course of 1998.
Opinion polls indicate incumbent President Ivan Gašparovič - who has the support of the ruling, leftist Direction - Social Democracy (SMER-SD) party of Prime Minister Robert Fico and one of its coalition partners, the ultra-nationalist Slovak National Party (SNS) - leads a field of seven candidates and is likely to obtain an absolute majority of the votes cast in the election, but will nonetheless fall short of the higher threshold recently established by the Central Election Commission.
Gašparovič was first elected to the presidency in 2004, when he unexpectedly made it to the runoff election along with his erstwhile boss, former Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar. However, the latter was (and remains) widely reviled by many Slovaks for his autocratic ways as head of government during three periods in office between 1990 and 1998, and Gašparovič - who parted ways with Mečiar in 2002 - prevailed largely because he was perceived as the lesser of two evils.
The change in the election rules could benefit sociologist Iveta Radičová, the joint candidate of three center-right opposition parties which held office from 1998 to 2006: the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ), the Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) and the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH). Radičová - a former Labour, Social Affairs and Family Minister - has emerged as President Gašparovič's major challenger, although opinion polls have her trailing by a substantial margin; nonetheless, she hopes to score an upset victory in the runoff election and become Slovakia's first female head of state.
Meanwhile, the remaining five candidates - Dagmara Bollová, a former Communist Party of Slovakia (KSS) parliamentarian; Free Forum leader Zuzana Martináková; Milan Melník, a university professor supported by the third party in the ruling coalition, the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) of former Prime Minister Mečiar; František Mikloško, a former parliamentarian backed by the Conservative Democrats of Slovakia (KDS); and KSS candidate Milan Sidor - are stuck in the single digits, well behind Gašparovič and Radičová.
Since Prime Minister Fico and his government (with the exception of HZDS) have given their full backing to Ivan Gašparovič, and the three major opposition parties are lined up behind Iveta Radičová, it should come as no surprise that the presidential vote has become an early dress rehearsal of parliamentary elections that will be held by next year at the latest.
With all 5,919 polling districts reporting, President Ivan Gašparovič won the largest number of votes in Slovakia's 2009 presidential election, but fell well short of an absolute majority of registered electors (as well as valid votes). Consequently, there will be a runoff election next April 4 between President Gašparovič and Iveta Radičová, who came in second place with a stronger than expected showing.
The official Election to the president of the Slovak Republic 2009 website has detailed results in Slovak; nationwide results are available in English on Presidential and Legislative Elections in Slovakia.