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Experience and Loan-Sharking

A glossary of basic terms to help understand Slovakia’s upcoming presidential election.

by Martin Ehl 25 March 2014

Slovakia’s prime minister, Robert Fico, will face an unprecedentedly equal partner in Andrej Kiska for the second round of the presidential elections, which will take place 29 March. Below are some key words and phrases that best characterize the methods of the battle and their potential influence on voters.

 

Populism: The basic working tool of a politician during an election campaign (not only in Slovakia).

 

The Scientology Card: Traditionally, various cards are played in Slovakia’s elections – most often the Hungarian card, meaning fear of the demands of the Hungarian minority. Even before the first round, Kiska's opponents brought up his alleged links with Scientology, which, according to some assessments, is a dangerous sect originating in the United States. In Catholic Slovakia, this tactic was only slightly effective because, for the average voter, Scientology at most brings to mind Tom Cruise. Additionally, this turned against Fico when it became known that the government does business with one Scientology firm.

 

Kosovo: The bogeyman for many European politicians in countries with a strong minority. It gets pulled out when other arguments flag. Kiska has a different opinion about Kosovo than most on Slovakia’s political scene. He supports independence and has said Slovakia should recognize Kosovo. Slovakia is one of five EU countries yet to do so. (See the entries: Populism, Scientology Card, and Experienced Politician).

 

Historical Example: In the year 2004 the dreaded ex-Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar won in the first round of the presidential campaign along with Ivan Gasparovic, one of the Meciar’s former political allies. Voters – including those on the center right, traditionally much more fragmented – were so spooked by the prospect of Meciar's return that they voted Gasparovic into the presidential office in the second round. Even though Fico is not as polarizing a figure as Meciar was, Kiska can still hope to win the votes that went to non-party candidates (including himself) in the first round, which amounted to 60 percent of ballots cast. (See entry Experienced Politician).

 

Criminal Charges: Until this past weekend’s debates (see entry Television Debate) this was the strongest weapon that Kiska had wielded against Fico. Without proof, Fico accused Kiska’s installment credit firms of having broken the law and been punished by the courts (see entry Loan Shark). However, the prime minister did not provide any evidence, and an otherwise rather non-combative Kiska filed criminal charges against Fico.

 

Television Debate: The main tool of the election campaign between the first and second rounds. Kiska finished the weekend debates slightly ahead of Fico (Fico avoided eye contact and Kiska didn’t let Fico or the moderator cut him off as often as in earlier debates).

 

Loan Shark: This is the image that Fico wants to stick on Kiska, co-founder of credit installment companies, and originally it was the key phrase of the campaign. Around 1.3 million Slovaks have used the services of these companies, so they know exactly the interest rates they pay. The accusation of usury proved weak – especially with reference to the early 1990s, when no bank in Slovakia offered similar services. And as Kiska has said many times, he got wealthy above all from the sale of those firms to the respected Italian bank Intesa Saopaolo, not by way of high interest rates.

 

Experienced Politician: This is the main argument of professional politicians against Kiska. And looking at the sad state of Slovakia’s political system, this is also their main weakness. 

Martin Ehl
 is the foreign editor of the Czech daily Hospodarske noviny, where this column originally appeared. He tweets at @MartinCZV4EU. 

 

Translated by Anna Kotlabova.

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