Ivan Gasparovic elected Slovak president in surprise vote

19-04-2004

Voters in neighbouring Slovakia have chosen the country's new president. In the second round of voting on Saturday, Slovakia's former parliament chairman Ivan Gasparovic was elected as Slovak president. With 60 percent of the vote, he beat his one-time close ally, controversial former prime minister Vladimir Meciar. Earlier Pavla Horakova spoke to Rob Cameron who had followed the election in Bratislava and she first asked him to tell us more about the president-elect.

New Slovak president Ivan Gasparovic, photo: CTKNew Slovak president Ivan Gasparovic, photo: CTK "Ivan Gasparovic is a 63-year old former lawyer. He was actually instrumental in drawing up Slovakia's constitution after Slovakia split from Czechoslovakia in 1993. And he is also the former right-hand man of the controversial former prime minister, Vladimir Meciar, the man he beat in Saturday's election. He stood at Mr Meciar's side all through those years in the mid-1990s during some of the most controversial moments for Slovakia. So he is a former Meciar aide and he's now beaten his boss to become President."

The result of the election is seen as a surprise by many. Tell us, Rob, was the victory of Mr Gasparovic really so unexpected?

"I think it actually was, yes. I mean the problem was that in the two weeks between the first round and the second round there were no opinion polls carried out at all, neither were there exit polls carried out after the voting. So it was very very difficult to predict the outcome of this vote but nonetheless most people were assuming that the turnout in the second round would be quite low, something around 30 percent and if that would have been the case, then Mr Meciar's victory would have been assured.

"In the end, turnout was around 43 percent, much higher than had been predicted, and turnout in this election was critical because if turnout was low, then it would have been made up mostly by Mr Meciar's supporters. But if more people came out and voted, they would have been people who were determined to see the next president not be Mr Meciar. And that is in fact what has happened, that many Slovaks had decided that the idea of President Meciar was just too unpalatable so they came out and voted for Mr Gasparovic."

Ivan Gasparovic is going to be the third president of independent Slovakia, since the split of Czechoslovakia in 1993. The Czech Republic and Slovakia have very close bilateral relations. Is Mr Gasparovic, as head of state, expected to continue in this tradition?

"He is, absolutely. That was one of the first things he said after being elected that his first visit as President would take him to Prague, and that's very much a tradition for Czech and Slovak presidents after being elected, they usually visit the former federal partner, as it were. Mr Gasparovic says that relations with the Czech Republic are crucial for his country and certainly he'll do everything in his power to maintain them."

19-04-2004

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