Voters in Slovakia have elected as president Ivan Gasparovic, a moderate, going against predictions that former populist prime minister Vladimir Meciar, who had been criticized for his anti-democratic rule, would win.
Former Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar, right, has lost to his former ally, Ivan Gasparovic, left.
Many Slovaks characterized the run-off election for president as a choice between the lesser of two evils--a nationalist former prime minister who earned Slovakia isolation in the 1990s with his authoritarian rule, or the man who stood at his side then as parliamentary speaker.
But on Sunday, the country's election committee announced that preliminary results showed Gasparovic, the former speaker, defeated his former boss and ally with 59.91 percent of the vote in Saturday's election.
Gasparovic (photo), 63, won the vote just weeks before Slovakia enters the European Union on May 1 and will begin his five-year term in mid-June.
"I did not underestimate myself, and the fact that I am here means that others did not do so either, mainly the voters did not underestimate me," Gasparovic told reporters.
Although the office of president is largely ceremonial in Slovakia, Gasparovic will have an important veto that he could use to block EU-required reforms. Gasparovic, a center-left politician, has not said how he will wield the veto, but he and high-ranking allies have often criticized government reforms saying they hurt everyday Slovaks and have kept unemployment high--currently it is at 16 percent.
Much of his campaign was centered around criticism of the current center-right government although he has been vague about concrete steps he would take if he were elected.
Despite the slight anti-EU tone to the campaign, after his victory Gasparovic pledged he would try to find common ground with Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda, saying Slovakia's integration into the European club should be smooth.
Blow for Meciar
The defeat is a crushing blow for Vladimir Meciar, who analysts had predicted would pull out a victory after defeating Gasparovic in the first round of voting by nearly ten percentage points.
Meciar (photo), who was prime minister of Slovakia from 1990-1998, tried to convince voters he was a changed man who had learned from experience to be less combative. During his time in office, he become a political pariah in the West, where many were highly critical of his crackdown on the media and his authoritarian style.
While Meciar remains popular in rural areas with his nationalistic platform, voters overall seemed to have rejected his attempt at a makeover.