Bratislava, Slovakia – At the close of Thursday’s deadline, fifteen candidates (13 men and 2 women), most of whom are labelled as independent and unknown from the general public, have announced their candidacy to become Slovakia’s next president.
Two candidacies were rejected by Slovak National Council chairman Andrej Danko for failing to meet the official requirements of a presidential bid.
“All (15) of them met the legislative criteria, either submitted at least 15 signatures of MP’s or 15.000 signatures of citizens”, spokesperson for the Slovak Parliament Tomas Koscelnik confirmed on Friday.
These elections come at a critical time in Slovak politics, one year after mass protests triggered by the murder of young investigative journalist Jan Kuciak forced Prime Minister Robert Fico out of office – but not out of politics. Although the president doesn’t wield much power in day-to-day politics, this election is seen as an important indicator of Slovakia’s political and European future, as uncertainties loom over the fate of the EU member state and Eurozone country, with commentators speculating whether the country will join the rising tide of euroscepticism and illiberalism sweeping the EU and Central Europe in particular.
Slovaks will vote to elect the successor of incumbent Andrej Kiska, unaffiliated with any party who announced he would not seek reelection, for a five-year term. The first round of the election will take place on March 16, and if no candidate scores 50% or more, the top two candidates will go into the runoff and head to the second round, scheduled for March 30.
As Slovaks get ready to head to the polls in less than two months, here are the main front-runners and full list of candidates who aspire to move to Bratislava Presidential Palace in 2019.
1. Maroš Šefčovič
Maroš Šefčovič, a career diplomat and current EU Commissioner in charge of the energy policy, announced in January his bid to become the next Slovak President. Backed by the ruling Smer party, he appears as the front-runner and most experienced politician for the job, and seems to be leading in the polls at around 16-17% of voting intentions. Last year, he briefly campaigned to become EU Commission President, before withdrawing from the race to support Frans Timmermans as the Party of European Socialists’ main candidate for the EU’s top job.
Maroš Šefčovič, 52, graduated from the Moscow State Institute for International Relations and Comenius University in Bratislava. A career diplomat, he was posted in several posts around the world, including Canada and Israel, before spending most of his career in Brussels after the country joined the EU: he became Slovakia’s permanent representative to the EU, EU Commissioner for Education, Training, Culture and Youth, and EU Commission vice-president for energy since 2014.
2. Robert Mistrík
A political newcomer, Robert Mistrík is a scientist and entrepreneur, who announced his bid as an independent to become Slovakia’s president in May last year and is backed by the main opposition party, the liberal Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) – a party he helped found back in 2009 – as well as SPOLU. By choosing to back a political novice, opposition parties hope to mimic their 2014 victory, when Andrej Kiska beat Robert Fico in the second round of the elections. Also 52, Robert Mistrik was leading in the polls last year, but is now tied with Maroš Šefčovič since the EU Commissioner announced his bid.
Born in Banska Bystrica, Robert Mistrík studied chemistry in Bratislava and Vienna and has also worked as a visiting professor in the United States. He founded his own high-tech technology company HighChem and was involved in creating the ground-breaking mzCloud spectral database, allegedly used by some of the world’s most famous companies like Coca-Cola, Nike or Apple. Although lacking in political experience, Robert Mistrík has found its point of attack to wound main opponent Maroš Šefčovič, whom he described as “out of touch with his home country” for having spent so much time in Brussels and for having mostly worked in EU institutions throughout his career.
Both lead candidates have expressed a rather mainstream agenda, based on the wish to cement Slovakia’s place in the European Union and the importance to fight against corruption (Slovakia was just ranked as the 6th most corrupt country in the EU by Transparency International). And as Reuters reminds, “opinion polls on voters’ second choices suggest that both Šefčovič and Mistrík would beat either of the anti-establishment candidates in the second round” of the election.
3. Štefan Harabin
A 61-year-old supreme court judge and Justice Minister from 2006 to 2009, Štefan Harabin describes himself as a Christian patriot and anti-establishment candidate who, among other things, proposes to scrap European sanctions against Russia and has described current president Andrej Kiska as a traitor controlled by foreign powers. Current polls put him at the third place, with around 11.5% of voting intentions.
4. Marian Kotleba
Governor of his home region of Banska Bystrica from 2013 to 2017 and current member of Parliament, Marian Kotleba is the controversial leader of the far-right People’s Party Our Slovakia who enjoys the support of roughly 8% of the voters, according to recent polls. His rhetoric has been appealing to a growing number of voters and his party has won seats in Parliament for the first time in 2016.
5. Béla Bugár
Béla Bugár is a politician of Hungarian ethnicity, founder of the Hungarian minority party Most-Hid – part of the government coalition – and vice-chairman of the Slovak National Council. He’s a well-known figure in Slovak politics and has been member of the Slovak Parliament since 1992 and its brief acting speaker for a few months in 2006.
The other candidates to become the next Slovak President are:
- Lawyer Zuzana Čaputová from Progresivne Slovensko (Progressive Slovakia), a left-wing party founded less than two years ago by a group of young Slovaks;
- Milan Krajniak, MP from the right-wing political party Sme Rodina (We Are a Family);
- František Mikloško, a Christian Democratic politician, former speaker of the Slovak parliament in the early 1990’s. His 2004 and 2009 presidential bids were unsuccessful;
- Entrepreneur Bohumila Tauchmannová;
- Security analyst Juraj Zábojník;
- Activist, blogger and journalist Martin Daňo, best known for his YouTube videos about the cases he’s investigating;
- Leader of the Party of the Hungarian community (SMK) József Menyhárt;
- Leader of the Slovak Revival Movement (SHO) Robert Švec;
- Eduard Chmelar, journalist, political scientist, historian, university lecturer and unsuccessful Green Party candidate in the 2009 European Parliament elections;
- And Ivan Zuzula, leader of the Slovak Conservative Party.