Political newcomer and millionaire Andrej Kiska emerged out of nowhere to win a landslide in Saturday’s Slovak presidential run-off, preventing veteran leftist Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico from tightening his grip on power.
A non-aligned centrist who made his fortune in the consumer-credit business, the 51-year-old Kiska will be Slovakia’s first president since independence in 1993 without a past in the nation’s communist party.
“I want to re-establish the people’s trust in the office of president,” Kiska said in a victory speech at his campaign headquarters in the capital, Bratislava.
The millionaire-turned-philanthropist who has given away most of his fortune to charity also vowed to “make politics more human.”
Fico, who will likely stay on as prime minister in the runup to a 2016 general election, conceded defeat as results showed Kiska winning a landslide.
Based on results from 99 percent the vote, Kiska scored 59.4 percent of the vote compared to Fico’s 40.6 percent result, the election commission said.
“This election was a referendum on Fico and his government, and he clearly lost it,” Grigorij Meseznikov, Bratislava-based analyst from the Slovak Institute for Public Affairs said of the prime minister’s failed attempt to monopolize power.
“The vast majority of voters have expressed their disillusion with Fico, he was unable to mobilise his core voters,” Meseznikov added.
A prospect of Smer winning control of both parliament and the presidency galvanized opponents in the country of 5.4 million, which joined the EU in 2004 and the eurozone in 2009.
Fico’s party has a majority 83 seats in the 150-member parliament, with the next general election scheduled for 2016.
Analysts also warned that if he had taken the presidency, Fico could have tried to amend the constitution to boost presidential powers and transform the parliamentary system into a presidential one.
Crucially, Kiska sold himself as a bulwark against a Fico power grab.
“I voted for Kiska to prevent Fico from winning,” Denisa Angyalova said as she cast her ballot earlier on Saturday in a sunny Bratislava, adding: “Fico is too power-hungry and I don’t want one party to rule.”
Her sentiments were echoed by pensioner Stefan Horvath: “I voted for Kiska because he is not as corrupt as other politicians. He brings a breath of fresh air to politics and he understands people.”
Endorsed by heavyweight European Socialists like French President Francois Hollande and European Parliament President Martin Schulz, veteran leftist Fico, 49, had tried to cast Kiska as politically naive and out of his depth.
However, Kiska, who is widely regarded as a self-made man with a very good nose for business, capitalized on his image as a political greenhorn untainted by the kind of corruption allegations that have ravaged Slovakia’s right wing.
Politics in Slovakia were rocked to the core in 2011 when a secret-service file, code-named “Gorilla,” leaked on the Internet revealed alleged links between oligarchs from a private financial group and nearly all of the right-wing political elite.
In the 2012 general election, angry voters ousted right-of-center politicians and Fico won by a landslide, enabling him to form a one-party government backed by a strong independent majority in the parliament.