* Popular leftist prime minister announces candidacy
* Election due before June
* No major policy change on the horizon
By Jan Lopatka
PRAGUE, Dec 18 Slovakia's leftist Prime Minister
Robert Fico announced on Wednesday he would run in the country's
presidential election next year after six years at the helm of
The president is the central European country's head of
state but holds less day-to-day executive power than the prime
minister. However, it holds considerable prestige and would
round off Fico's career after twice being premier.
A Fico victory - which opinion polls see as likely - would
force a reshuffle of the cabinet, which should not pose a big
problem given his centre-left Smer party holds an absolute
Parliament speaker Pavol Paska and Interior Minister Robert
Kalinak are possible successors as party chief and prime
minister, but neither of them have the appeal or political drive
of Fico, raising questions about the future of the party.
"I am a social democrat. I am offering my candidacy and
understand it as a service for Slovakia and its people, aiming
to protect its internal stability," Fico, 49, told a meeting of
politicians and diplomats.
His election would bring no big changes to Slovakia's
policies, which are aimed at luring foreign investors to cut
down unemployment while taxing and regulating utilities to keep
living costs down.
Fico took the country of 5.4 million into the euro zone in
2009 and has kept budget deficits under control, helping the
country sail through the global economic crisis without any
major bank failures or financing problems.
Fico is a lawyer who entered politics in 1992 as a
parliamentary deputy for a group that was successor to the
totalitarian Communist party.
He rose from obscurity in the late 1990s to fill a vacuum on
the left, railing against right-wing reforms which sold off
state firms, cut welfare and job security and streamlined taxes.
He set up the left-wing Smer and won an election in 2006,
becoming prime minister for a four-year term.
Fico, a fitness enthusiast who once outdid an elite army
unit in doing push-ups, lost against a centre-right coalition in
2010 but came back to power after the 2012 election when Smer
won its absolute majority.
He scored 36.9 percent in an opinion poll by the Focus
agency last month, ahead of independent presidential candidate
Andrej Kiska with 17.9 percent.
The new president will replace Ivan Gasparovic, who will
have completed his second and final five-year term in June.
(Reporting by Jan Lopatka; Editing by Alison Williams)