Slovakia’s ruling Smer to lose powerful critic as President Kiska says he won’t stand for re-election

Slovakia’s ruling Smer to lose powerful critic as President Kiska says he won’t stand for re-election
Andrej Kiska respected the rule of law although he used his mandate as head of state to the fullest.
By Jaroslav Hroch in Prague May 16, 2018

President Andrej Kiska, a key EU ally and vocal critic of Slovakia's current Smer-SD led government, announced on May 15 that he will not seek a second term in office and hopes his decision will help bring an end to the current "era of political confrontation".

Kiska had often criticised the political elite and called for a "radical" change in the government following the execution-style murder of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancée in February, which spawned massive street protests and compelled Robert Fico (Smer-SD) to resign as prime minister in March. 

"Slovakia needs a self-confident head of state who will not be afraid to stand up for the values of a modern and free democratic country," Kiska told a press conference. 

The Slovak president is seen as a beacon of democracy in an increasingly illiberal region who respected the rule of law although he used his mandate as head of state to the fullest.

But Kiska also acknowledged that he had at times gone to the edge of his powers, citing as an example his decisions concerning the appointments of Constitutional Court judges and the recent reconstruction of the government: in April, he refused to appoint the government's first nomination for interior minister and reluctantly appointed their second one, calling it a "wasted opportunity to restore public trust".

A Focus agency poll in April showed Kiska as the country's most-trusted politician (topping the list of 46.2% of respondents), followed by Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini (34.7%), speaker of parliament Andrej Danko (31.2%), opposition Slovak National Party (SNS) chairman Richard Sulík (26.6%) and his coalition partner Most-Hid Bela Bugar (25.9%), and Fico (23.1%).

"I will think over how to use the trust of a large section of the public in the best way in order to contribute towards the beginning of a new political era in Slovakia," Kiska said, stressing that recent events had reminded him how "time spent with family is irreplaceable" and that he was resigning from office for personal reasons. 

The question now is who will replace him when Slovaks go to the polls in April 2019 and whether his decision will help calm the ongoing political crisis.

Parliamentary political parties Smer-SD, the SNS, Most-Hid, Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) OLaNO and We Are Family haven't yet presented their presidential candidates. 

Whoever they may be, Kiska pledged not to influence the process. "I think it's right if citizens choose a president who won't have to carry the burden of the struggles that I've, been carrying, therefore, that Slovakia will elect its president without my involvement," he said.

Kiska, a successful businessman-turned-philanthropist, was a political newcomer when he beat then prime minister Fico in the 2014 presidential election. Although he earlier ruled out forming a new political party, he may well remain an active non-partisan figure, supporting a liberal pro-western and pro-EU stance.

"I feel responsible for helping to bring about a change ... and help unite those who are not only willing but capable of ruling in a decent and responsible way," he said.