BRATISLAVA, Mar 19 – A woman is among the two front-runners of the upcoming presidential election in Slovakia, a former communist country with a conservative tradition linked to a strong Catholic influence.,
According to latest polls, the out-going president Ivan Gasparovic, 67, would comfortably win the election while the opposition candidate Iveta Radicova, 52, seems the only one among his six challengers able to pass the first round on Saturday, March 21.
Gasparovic, a lawyer who likes to present himself as the architect of the Slovak constitution, would gain over 50 percent of the votes while Radicova, a sociologist, would get over 30 percent support.
But the final result depends on the turnout: if none of the candidate gets more than 50 percent of all eligible votes in the first round, a second round is set to take place on April 4.
In a possible second round Radicova, as the Christian-democratic candidate, could profit from the votes of those who supported other candidates in the first round, according to local media.
"Gasparovic represents continuity – both with the country’s communist past and the current governing coalition, while Radicova represents political and generation change," a sociologist with the Institute for Public Affairs Olga Gyarfasova said.
The role of women in the conservative country is still limited and "many people think that Slovakia is not ready for a female president yet, even some women do think so," a psychologist Jana Porubcova from the UCM university told AFP.
The liberally-oriented Radicova has sparked criticism among Catholic priests for her pro-choice attitude after she had supported a tighter regulation on abortion but refused a total ban.
The Slovak Bishops Conference (KBS) said they did not want to interfere in the election campaign but supported the priests’ right "to express their opinion as individual citizens".
About abortion, a bishop went as far as saying that those who "agree murder is not a sin" pave the way for "butchers" like Hitler or Stalin. Another priest has denounced Radicova for living with her partner and not being married.
The rest of the two-week election campaign has been very quiet, being short of any real political stake. The role of president is mostly ceremonial in the country with a parliamentary democracy that was established in 1993 after the fall of communism and the split of Czechoslovakia.
In Slovakia, which has a population of 5.4 million with pensioners representing one out of four eligible voters, Radicova has opted for a huge campaign featuring 2,000 billboards and focused on the youth through Internet, with a slogan "Yes, we can!" clearly borrowed from Barack Obama.
With fewer billboards and Internet pages, Gasparovic has been relying on his official position for a wider media coverage.
His slogan "Together for Slovakia" presents him as a man of consensus. The former communist politician has been able to cope with the former liberal government of Mikulas Dzurinda and with the governing socialist coalition led by Robert Fico.
In his bid for a second mandate, the incumbent president is backed up by two of the three coalition parties. The popular Prime Minister Robert Fico has publicly said that "Gasparovic has the full support of Smer party, as he represents experience and stability."
The patriotic and xenophobe SNS party supports Gasparovic’s defence of the Slovak language which clashed with the country’s large Hungarian minority that amounts to about 10 percent of the population.
Radicova, former labour, social affairs and family minister (2005-2006) is supported by the three opposition parties – the Christian democrats SDKU, conservative KDH and ethnic-Hungarian SMK party.