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Slovakia votes for new president amid worries over candidate Fico

Slovaks have voted in the first round of polling to choose a new president. There are concerns that a widely-tipped win by Premier Robert Fico will monopolize power in the Central European state.

Fico (pictured above) is a two-time prime minister who took Slovakia into the eurozone in 2009. He has campaigned for a balance between fiscal discipline and pro-growth policies.

The leading candidate among a field of 14, Fico commands around 35-percent support in opinion polls, but he could face a challenge from independent millionaire-turned-philanthropist Andrej Kiska.

Kiska, 51, made his fortune in consumer credit companies which he sold a decade ago, before setting up a charity to help families with sick children.

The vote on Saturday is unlikely to end with an outright winner, who would need over 50 percent. It is likely that Fico will face Kiska in a run-off vote on March 29.

Center-left's power in the spotlight

Some Slovaks are concerned that a victory by Fico, 49, would further consolidate the power of his center-left Smer party. The Slovak constitution does not grant the president himself a large political role, but a win by Fico would mean Smer controls the presidency, parliament and government.

Analysts have said that Fico would be tempted to increase the powers of the president if he wins. The president already has the power to name or approve some key figures in the judiciary.

According to Grigorij Meseznikov from Bratislava's Institute for Public Affairs, the election has become "a referendum on Robert Fico's government and the concentration of power."

"He is a man of unlimited ambition," Meseznikov said.

"If he has the strength in parliament, the next day he will want to change the constitution."

Marian Lesko, an analyst with Trend business weekly, predicts Fico could try to change Slovakia's parliamentary system into a presidential one.

"Any of Fico's successors [as prime minister], who are effectively his subordinates at the moment, would still view him as their boss after taking up the premier's job," Lesko said.

The winner will replace outgoing conservative President Ivan Gasparovic, who is not able to run for another term under Slovakia's constitution.

jr/slk (AFP, Reuters, dpa)