Fico set to ride donkey to Slovak presidency

By bne IntelliNews March 14, 2014

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Prime Minister Robert Fico looks set to win Slovakia's presidential election on March 15, brushing off efforts by opponents to upset his campaign with a taunting gift of a donkey and a sack of potatoes.

Currently polling around 35%, the left-wing PM is forecast to take over the largely ceremonial post on June 15, when incumbent Ivan Gasparovic's second and final term ends. Should he fail to win outright in the first round, voters will be asked to choose again on March 29.

The move away from the frontline of politics for the feisty leader has some wondering over his motivation. Analysts have pointed out that with the economy struggling to regain traction, Fico has decided another term in the PM's chair could prove tricky to secure. Others claim the move is a consolidation of power rather than a step aside.

On the one hand, following the collapse of the right wing amid a corruption scandal in 2012's snap elections, a win for Fico would see the presidency, parliament and government controlled by the same party - Fico's SMER - for the first time since Slovak independence in 1993. On the other, some suggest Fico has little intention to fade into the background.

Marian Lesko, an analyst with the Trend business weekly, told AFP that Fico could try to amend the constitution to "boost the president's powers" and transform Slovakia's parliamentary system into a presidential one. That's a task that Milos Zeman has been accused of attempting unofficially next-door in the Czech Republic.

At the same time, the likely departing PM will retain plenty of sway in parliament. Fico's possible successors include close allies Pavol Paska - currently speaker of parliament and Interior Minister Robert Kalinak. "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," Lesko claims.

But politics can go seriously off script in Slovakia.

As the SMER candidate faded to defeat, the central region of Bankska Bystrica elected neo-Nazi Marian Kotleba in last years' regional elections, producing global headlines. Fico had earlier remarked that even a sack of potatoes could beat the far-right candidate.

Igor Matovic, the leader of the Ordinary People party, celebrated that remark this week as he delivered a sack of spuds to Fico on the back of a donkey. Dressed to impress as he arrived with his load at government offices, Tapo wore a red tie - reflecting SMER's colours.

"I heard that candidate Fico has been a little grouchy to his subordinates recently and not getting much sleep at night due to a recurring nightmare of him being defeated by the notorious sack of potatoes," Matovic told the TASR news agency. "I hope that the candidate can finally sleep soundly now. And as for the rest of us, if we wish to sleep soundly, we should all scutter out to ballot boxes on Saturday and not vote for candidate Fico," he added.

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