Slovakia elects a new president

Slovakia elects a new president

The Slovak flag hangs on the wall at a polling station © Radovan Stoklasa

Ahead of the presidential elections in Slovakia, the Christian Democratic camp presents itself completely fragmented. Christianity is actually still a formative social force there.

A new head of state will be elected in Slovakia this Saturday. The favorite to succeed outgoing incumbent Andrej Kiska (56) is the vice chairwoman of the extra-parliamentary liberal Progressive Slovakia party, Zuzana Caputova (45). The next parliamentary election is also due in Bratislava by early 2020 at the latest. Because of the unstable balance of power in the governing coalition of social-democratic Smer, right-wing populist Slovak National Party and Slovak-Hungarian Most-Hid party, an earlier date is also possible.

Meanwhile, the Christian Democratic camp appears completely fragmented, also with an eye on the European elections on 25. May and one year after the murder of journalist Jan Kuciak, which shook the country socially and politically. The demonstrations "for a decent Slovakia" following the murder of the investigative journalist and his fiancee had led to the resignation of Smer leader Robert Fico (54) as prime minister the previous year and boosted the Progresivne Slovensko party of presidential candidate Caputova, founded in November 2017.

Caputova describes herself as a believer

After the resignation of her non-party rival Robert Mistrik last week, Caputova leads the polls clearly ahead of EU Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic (52), who is running for the ruling Smer party. Caputova is also supported by incumbent President Kiska.

The Catholic Church, still a social force in Slovakia, has not yet commented on the electoral movements. Almost all of the original 15 candidates took Christian voters into account (to varying degrees) in their election campaigns. About one-fifth of Slovaks are considered church-affiliated by pollsters.

Caputova describes herself as a believer, but also "stands by liberal values and rights of the individual". In September 2018, she appeared in the Presidential Garden with the deposed Archbishop of Trnava, Robert Bezak. He did not agree with her approval of homosexual adoption rights, Bezak said at the time; but he would welcome a woman at the head of state. "The Germans have their 'Mutti Merkel' and we could now have a Zuzana."

"Faithful Communist" Harabin Polarizes

Among the other candidates, Stefan Harabin (61) is the most polarizing. The former president of the Supreme Court and former communist had backed President Vladimir Meciar as justice minister when he tried to discredit the then chairman of the bishops' conference, Bishop Rudolf Balaz, in the mid-1990s. Today he presents himself as a faithful Catholic.

In foreign policy, he appreciates Vladimir Putin, Viktor Orban and Donald Trump because they upheld nation-states, Harabin says. He wants to cancel state agreements on dealing with migration, as well as the Council of Europe Convention on Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence – which Slovakia signed in 2011 but has not ratified to date. This so-called Istanbul Convention is also a red rag for two new Christian Democratic parties that want to steal the thunder from the former ruling party KDH (Christian Democratic Movement): the Christian Democratic Union and the Christian Democracy – Life and Prosperity Party (KDZP).

Since the conservative Catholic core class is also completely fragmented, none of its representatives is likely to succeed in the three upcoming elections. Politicians such as the "devout communist" Harabin or the right-wing extremist Marian Kotleba (41), who is also a candidate, could profit from it. The former dissident and later Christian Democrat parliamentary speaker Frantisek Miklosko (71), who is running for president for the third time, is only polling at about three percent.

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