* Popular leftist prime minister announces candidacy
* Election due before June
* No major policy change on the horizon (Adds details)
By Jan Lopatka
PRAGUE, Dec 18 (Reuters) - 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 cabinet.
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 majority.
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)