World News

Slovak president wins re-election in a boost for PM

BRATISLAVA (Reuters) - Slovak President Ivan Gasparovic easily won re-election for a second term, results showed on Sunday, confirming the popularity of his leftist ally, Prime Minister Robert Fico, a year before parliamentary polls.

Slovakia's incumbent President Ivan Gasparovic shows the victory sign as he arrives at a hotel in the village of Limbach, some 30 km east of Bratislava April 4, 2009. REUTERS/Dominic Ebenbichler

Gasparovic won 56 percent of the vote in Saturday’s ballot, the Central Election Committee said, a margin of victory that was in line with the 68-year-old lawyer’s lead in opinion polls.

He defeated Iveta Radicova, a 52-year-old sociologist put forward by the opposition, who won 45 percent of the vote in the contest for the largely ceremonial post.

Gasparovic is close to Fico and supports his ambition to improve the living standards of those affected by the belt-tightening reforms of the previous centre-right cabinet, in which Radicova briefly served as Social Affairs Minister.

“I am glad I can be standing here today with the prime minister and the speaker of the parliament ... The (election) is the most direct evidence that people trust us,” Gasparovic said shortly after the results were announced.

Analysts said the election was a gauge of support for Fico and his social democrat Smer faction a year before the ex-communist EU member state and euro zone newcomer holds a parliamentary election.

Slovakia has not had to bail out any banks, but Fico faces the prospect of Slovakia’s first economic contraction this year and the loss of thousands of jobs as Western demand for the country’s exports, cars and TV sets, fades in the recession.

Fico, who took Slovakia into the euro zone in January, is trying to keep the fiscal deficit within the EU limit while juggling reduced budget revenues and his promise to keep expanded welfare programmes intact.

“Presidential elections are the first test for Smer and Robert Fico ahead of the general election, this was reflected in their engagement in the campaign,” said Erik Lastic, a political analyst from the Commenius University in Bratislava.

Analysts do not expect Gasparovic to use his right of veto on new legislation, though parliament can overturn that veto.

In his first term, Gasparovic did not challenge the government’s main legislative agenda, such as giving more powers to trade unions and workers and boosting pensions.

“We are looking towards another period of stability,” Fico said during a visit to Gasparovic’s election headquarters.

“In hard times that are coming due to the crisis, people will have a president who has strong social feelings and knows what the national and state interests of Slovakia are,” he said.

Analysts said Radicova’s solid showing was a sign that Fico might face tougher competition next year than the polls suggest.

“The results prove that a significant part of the electorate

voted for Radicova, and it is a signal that the opposition is not that helpless,” Lastic said.

Writing by Peter Laca, editing by Tim Pearce