PM fails to capture Slovak presidency



BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — Andrej Kiska, an independent businessman-turned-philanthropist, won Slovakia’s presidential election, defeating Prime Minister Robert Fico’s attempt to tighten his grip on power.

Kiska garnered 59.4 percent of votes compared with 40.6 percent for Fico, the Slovak Statistics Office said on its website Sunday. Fico conceded his defeat in a brief statement to reporters in Bratislava, the Slovak capital, late Saturday before final results were released. Turnout was 50.5 percent.

The result prevents Fico, who is halfway into his second term as premier, from consolidating his Smer party’s lock on power by becoming head of state and hand-picking his successor to lead the cabinet. Voters disappointed by Fico’s unfulfilled pledges to tackle corruption and boost job creation punished him at the ballot box.

“Kiska’s victory means that people want to have a president who will represent everybody,” Grigorij Meseznikov, the head of the Institute for Public Affairs, said in a telephone interview. “For Fico’s Smer, this could be the beginning of its end. It will surely score much less in the 2016 general elections.”

Given the largely ceremonial nature of the Slovak presidency, Kiska’s victory will have a limited policy impact. Smer has a majority of 83 deputies in the 150-seat parliament and is able to push through most legislation without opposition support.

“Kiska would likely be a vocal critic of the center-left cabinet,” Otilia Dhand at Teneo Intelligence in London said in a Wednesday note to clients.

“His victory would have a significant symbolic meaning as the first personal defeat for Fico.”

The yield on the 10-year Slovak government bond fell 2 basis points to a record low of 2.11 percent on March 28, holding below borrowing costs in similar maturity of higher- rated Belgium, according to generic data compiled by Bloomberg.

Fico’s campaign centered on his promotion of the government’s achievements in protecting Slovaks from the impact of the global economic crisis.

His cabinet introduced special levies for selected industries and raised income taxes for corporations and the country’s highest earners to raise revenue, in line with pledges to not let poorer citizens feel the impact of fiscal consolidation.

Public opinion poll

However, as much as 63 percent of Slovaks, including two-fifths of Smer voters, said the country is heading in the wrong direction, according to a poll by the Institute for Public Affairs conducted Nov. 5-13 among 1,049 people.

Three-quarters said chances to find a job have worsened since Fico’s second cabinet took power, while almost two-thirds see corruption as a bigger problem than during the 2010-2012 rule of Prime Minister Iveta Radicova.

“The president should be a counterweight to the government,” Kiska told TA3 news TV channel Sunday.

Kiska, 51, who went from mopping floors in Delanco, New Jersey, in the early 1990s to founding Slovakia’s biggest consumer-loan business, benefited in the runoff from supporters of candidates eliminated in a March 15 first round.

He co-founded two consumer-credit companies in the mid-1990s before selling them in 2005 to the Slovak unit of Intesa Sanpaolo SpA. He collected about 10 million euros ($13.8 million) for his stake.

Since then, he’s focused on philanthropy, having donated at least 2.5 million euros to the nation’s largest charity, Good Angel, which he founded.