Slovak Credit Pioneer Adds Independence to Presidency
Andrej Kiska, a Slovak businessman-turned-philanthropist who foiled Prime Minister Robert Fico’s bid to be president, adds a new independent voice to balance the premier’s political ambitions.
Kiska clinched 59.4 percent of votes in a March 29 runoff to become the country’s fourth president since it was founded in 1993, compared with Fico’s 40.6 percent, the Slovak Statistics Office said yesterday. Turnout was 50.5 percent. Fico remains the prime minister and will still be instrumental in setting the country’s policies because his Smer party has a majority in parliament.
The result prevents Fico, who is halfway into his second term as premier, from extending his lock on power by becoming the head of state and hand-picking his successor to lead the government. Voters disappointed by Fico’s unfulfilled pledges to tackle corruption and boost job creation punished him at the ballot box even as investors reward his economic policies with record-low yields.
“Kiska succeeded in rallying the anti-Fico group of voters, which usually divides its loyalties among a wide array of center-right parties,” Otilia Dhand, an analyst at political risk evaluator Teneo Intelligence, said by phone. “He has positioned himself as a future counter-weight of the government and will likely become its vocal critic.”
Smer has a majority of 83 seats in the 150-member Slovak parliament and can push through most legislation without opposition support.
Kiska, 51, went from mopping floors in Delanco, New Jersey, shortly after the fall of communism here in 1989 to founding Slovakia’s biggest consumer-loan business in mid-1990s.
He co-founded two consumer-credit companies, which he sold to the Slovak unit of Intesa Sanpaolo SpA (ISP) in 2005. He collected about 10 million euros ($13.8 million) for his stake in the business.
Since then, he’s focused on philanthropy, having donated at least 2.5 million euros to the nation’s largest charity, Good Angel, which he founded.
“I will restore trust in the presidential office,” Kiska pledged in his first remarks to reporters. “I will try to restore trust in politics. People are disgusted with quarrels.”
Still, he will probably have “only limited policy influence, given the relatively weak position of the president in the Slovak political system,” Dhand said.
Fico’s campaign around the country of 5.4 million centered on his promotion of the government’s achievements in protecting Slovaks from the impact of the global economic crisis.
His cabinet introduced special levies for selected industries and raised income taxes for corporations and the country’s highest earners to raise revenue, in line with pledges not to let poorer citizens feel the impact of fiscal consolidation.
The yield on the 10-year Slovak government bond fell 2 basis points to a record-low 2.11 percent on March 28, holding below borrowing costs of similar maturity in higher-rated Belgium, according to generic data compiled by Bloomberg.
While investors have rewarded Fico’s administration for succeeding in cutting the budget deficit, Slovaks have remained unimpressed and opted to vote for the political rookie instead, analysts said.
As much as 63 percent of Slovaks, including two-fifths of Smer voters, said the country is heading in the wrong direction, according to a poll by the Institute for Public Affairs conducted Nov. 5-13 among 1,049 people.
Job, Corruption Problems
Three-quarters said the chances of finding a job worsened after Fico’s second cabinet took power, while almost two-thirds see corruption as a bigger problem than during the 2010-2012 rule of Prime Minister Iveta Radicova.
The presidential election result weakens the position of Fico and his party as the dominant force in the euro-member country’s politics, according to Grigorij Meseznikov, the head of the Institute for Public Affairs.
“For Fico’s Smer, this could be the beginning of its end,” Meseznikov said by phone. “It will surely score much less in the 2016 general elections.”