Downtown Bratislava on Thursday morning, April Fool's Day. The election campaign for the President of Slovakia ended officially at 7 am. This was a smooth campaign with few surprises. The 11 candidates displayed their messages on billboards along the main roads and in the center of cities or booked airtime on the main TV and radio stations. Each of them according to their budget. And at the end of almost two months of campaigning, opinion polls put the current foreign minister, Eduard Kukan, supported by the Slovak Democratic and Chrisitian Union of premier Mikulas Dzurinda in first place. Second in the opinion polls was the three time prime minister - Vladimir Meciar - representing the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia.
These two will most likely face each other in a second round of voting on April 17th. Kukan is seen by many as the architect of Slovakia's membership of both NATO and the European Union. He makes a sharp contrast with Meciar whose time in power was scattered with allegations of corruption, stagnation of economic reform and the scandal surrounding the kidnapping of the then president's son. But according to Ivan Dianiska, an expert in political marketing, none of the candidates had a particularly strong political message.
"Those who had very low percentage in the opinion polls tended to say basically the same old things and didn't manage to differentiate themselves. The stronger candidates tried to underline their achievements but the message was very, very weak."
Many experts say that marketing played an important role in this campaign. Some candidates focused on their old and loyal voters and didn't bother too much to attract new ones. Ludmila Benkovicova, a sociologist with the OMV market research agency.
"Meciar for example spent a lot of time in Eastern Slovakia in rural areas talking directly to people because he knows that he has a greater impact in person than on TV or billboards. And he also knows that he cannot win well-paid and educated people living in cities with his nationalist rhetoric."
The Slovak president has a mostly symbolic role - though he is asked to sign bills approved by Parliament. If a candidate from an opposition party - like Vladimir Meciar - wins the second round of voting on April 17th, that could cause problems for Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda's government, which no longer holds a majority in Parliament. If Eduard Kukan wins the second round, that would strengthen Prime Minister Dzurinda.
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