Ivan Gasparovic was declared the winner yesterday of Slovakia’s runoff presidential election, taking 55.5 percent of the vote to clinch a second term in office.
His challenger, opposition candidate Iveta Radicova, received 44.5 percent of the votes cast in Saturday’s election, final results published by the Slovak statistics office showed.
The turnout exceeded 51 percent of more than 4 million registered voters.
Official results were expected to be confirmed by the national election committee later yesterday.
“The Slovak citizens respect me and I didn’t disappoint them — that’s what decided the election,” said Gasparovic, who presented himself during the campaign as a guarantee of stability and continuity amid the global economic crisis.
Slovakia’s economy, largely dependent on exports of cars and electronic goods produced mostly by foreign manufacturers, is forecast to contract this year after growing by 10.4 percent in 2007 and 6.4 percent last year.
“I am thankful to all the people and I promise I will always work for them,” the 68-year-old lawyer said, with the wife Silvia standing by his side.
The re-elected president celebrated his victory with traditional Slovak music, and he was congratulated by Slovak Socialist Prime Minister Robert Fico, who gave him his full support during the campaign.
Radicova, a 52-year-old Christian Democrat lawmaker, conceded defeat and congratulated Gasparovic.
But the former labor, social affairs and family minister let it be understood she would stay in the political arena.
“Almost 1 million votes — I view the support of so many people as a challenge, as a responsibility, as a new beginning,” she said before she was interrupted by applause that lasted several minutes.
During the night, the atmosphere in her election center was friendly with her supporters, including opposition politicians, popular actors, musicians and athletes stopping by to shake hands with her, many of them bringing flowers.
Gasparovic, a veteran political figure, won the first round of election with 46.7 percent of the votes cast, but the turnout of 44 percent was too low to allow him an outright victory.
The role of the president is mostly ceremonial in this parliamentary democracy that was established in 1993 after the fall of communism and the breakup of Czechoslovakia. In the final days the election campaign centred around nationalist issues. The country is home to two large minorities: Romas in the east and Hungarians in the south.
Radicova won several southern regions inhabited mostly by the Hungarian minority who make up 10 percent of the population.
During the election campaign, Gasparovic was backed by two of the three governing coalition parties, while Radicova had the support of three opposition parties — the Christian Democrats, the conservative KDH and ethnic-Hungarian SMK party.
Political analysts have said that a good showing by Radicova in the runoff could put her on track to replace former Slovak prime minister and Christian Democrat SDKU party chairman Mikulas Dzurinda as the opposition leader in next year’s general election.
In 2004, Gasparovic was elected in the second round of the election by a majority of 59.91 percent of the votes, beating the former authoritarian Slovak prime minister Vladimir Meciar who had won the first round.