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Five more years: Will Slovakia’s 2024 presidential election lead to success or setbacks?

The 2024 Slovak Presidential elections are swiftly approaching, and with international eyes on Slovakia’s controversial Prime Minister Robert Fico, there’s reason to follow the 10 candidates vying for their spot in the presidential palace. With Slovakia’s limited support of Ukraine, proposed changes to the criminal code, and ever-tightening control of public media, it has been suggested that the country may be mimicking the trajectory of Hungary under Viktor Orbán’s leadership. Similarities can be found between the Prime Ministers of the two Central European countries, but it should be noted that Fico’s only slight parliamentary majority does not directly parallel Orbán’s political dominance. There are still various checks and balances in place to limit Fico’s control, including a president with the right to monitor and, if necessary, challenge new legislation as it is introduced. For this reason, the winner of this election has the potential to either increase Fico’s power or keep a solid roadblock in his path to stop any efforts that may be deemed illegal.

 

Current Speaker of Parliament Peter Pellegrini and former Minister of Foreign Affairs Ivan Korčok are the frontrunners of this election. Pellegrini began his political career in Fico’s Smer party before conflicts led to his departure and the formation of his new party Hlas. He has emphasized Slovakia’s support of the EU and NATO, but also abstains from openly criticizing Fico’s alleged connections to Moscow and has recently come under fire for his lack of transparency regarding campaign finances. If Pellegrini was elected, his and Fico’s established party coalition would offer Fico a fairly open door to easily make his policy aspirations a reality. Korčok, on the other hand, would represent something similar to Fico’s current relationship with sitting president Zuzana Čaputová. Ivan Korčok’s years-long career in foreign service is reflected in his pro-Western policies and views, and he reaffirms a need for Slovakia to remain in the EU and NATO while solidly denouncing Fico’s anti-democratic activities. Pellegrini and Korčok remain neck and neck, proving that this election will be decided by voters currently backing other candidates, whose support in the second round on April 6th would help declare a clear victor.

 

Candidates – and the issues - polling above 5%

Polling as the third most popular candidate in this election, Štefan Harabin is one to watch not only due to his decent-sized voter base but also because he’s considered to be one of the most committed proliferators of disinformation in the race. With self-proclaimed values including peace, Slovakia’s dignity, rule of law, and family, it is clear how Harabin might attract voters whose beliefs align with his own, but a more in-depth look into his platform reveals contradictory interests, such as his vocal support of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 

 

Harabin’s official campaign website also shares filmed testimonials from several of his voters, who cite fears of a decline into fascism and a potential World War III. Among these voters, the sentiment that Harabin is a fighter who stands for truth, freedom, and peace is emphasized, and though not directly mentioned in the testimonials, his anti-EU and anti-NATO views also reflect generally declining support for those organizations among Slovak voters. Further, Harabin’s views against political elites have given him the chance to gain the votes of those who feel disillusioned by establishment politics, a sentiment seen broadly throughout Europe. He was recently endorsed by former presidential hopeful Andrej Danko, but it is unclear which of the two leading candidates may stand a chance of securing the vote of Harabin’s supporters come April 6th, especially with Harabin himself having framed Pellegrini as his greatest opponent.  

 

Igor Matovič is no stranger to the Slovak government. Now associated with the party Slovensko (formerly OĽaNO), Matovič resigned from his post as prime minister in 2021, primarily due to his flawed management of the COVID-19 pandemic. His current presidential campaign is centered around an anti-corruption and anti-mafia platform, though he is seemingly running with no intention of actually winning and tells voters that instead, he is on the presidential campaign trail to establish “the truth” and ask difficult questions. Originally, Matovič showed potential for implicating Pellegrini, whose allegedly shady dealings could have been targets for attack. Instead, experts have noted, it seems that Matovič’s attacks may end up only aiding the frontrunners’ campaign, as Matovič’s own flaws will be put on display and what some call his untrustworthiness will come to the fore. If this turns out to be the case, it will be Pellegrini, not Korčok, who will reap the benefits from this candidate who knows his campaign will never take off.

 

Candidates - and the issues - polling under 5%

Of note, far-right parties have multiple candidates on the ballot, which coincides with the current surge of far-right politics across Europe. Marian Kotleba (Kotlebovci – Ľudová Straná Naše Slovensko) and Róbert Švec (Slovenské Hnutie Obrody) both call for an exit from NATO and the EU, want to drop the Euro for a return to the Slovak crown, and are vehemently opposed to any bolstering of LGBTQIA+ rights.

 

For voters weary of the Slovak establishment but content with remaining in the EU and NATO, Ján Kubiš is an independent candidate who offers his career success within the United Nations and Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) as experiences that have prepared him to hold office. Kubiš’s focus on retirees as being of vital importance to his campaign is reminiscent of frontrunner Pellegrini’s close relationship with older voters in Slovakia, but while their views do overlap in some places, it would be safe to suggest that Kubiš’s supporters could end up casting their votes for either frontrunner candidate in the likely second election round on April 6.  

 

The final three candidates running for Slovak presidency differ greatly in their views. Polling in at 3% is Krisztián Forró, Chairman of the Hungarian minority party Aliancia – Szövetség. Focusing primarily on the interests of Hungarian Slovaks, his website does offer strong support for the European Union and notes how important this election is to the broader EU elections this year, but his run is really an effort to highlight the size and importance of the Hungarian population in Slovakia. Forró is potentially hoping to gain enough traction to then endorse one of the frontrunner candidates in the second round, but his smaller voter base is unlikely to sway the results tremendously. [4] Patrik Dubovský and Mílan Náhlik round off the presidential ballot, running as independent candidates and firmly polling in last place. Dubovský is vocally against Fico and supportive of Ukraine, while Náhlik is an ultra-nationalist who wants Slovakia to leave the EU and advocates a return to “traditional values.” Dubovský supporters who vote in the second round will likely back Korčok, while Náhlik’s ultra-right supporters may opt to stay home from the polls since the candidates on the ballot no longer represent their interests. Pellegrini may be able to gather a few votes from this group, but in general, his political career may hurt him with any self-proclaimed anti-establishment voters.

 

This election is a turning point for Slovakia, wherein Robert Fico will either have nearly free reign to make his proposed changes to the government and decide how to handle the war in Ukraine or will continue to face pressure from a pro-West candidate like current president Čaputová. The success of candidates with robust disinformation campaigns, far-right views, shady political dealings, and wavering support of neighbouring Ukraine in the war offers a telling image of European politics in 2024 and must remain watched by not only all citizens, investors, and stakeholders in the region, but by the international community as well.  


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