What does the election of Andrej Kiska mean internationally?
It is a little inconvenient for an ambassador to comment on an election in which the host country’s prime minister suffered defeat. Still, let me have a take from a somewhat different angle than the one you might follow in other analyses, which single out the fatigue with traditional politics or the monopoly of power in Slovakia.
First, however, I would like to confirm that it is quite clear that Robert Fico would have won the presidential elections in Slovakia had he not been the country’s prime minister. As the head of the government he has been – in the view of the electorate, left, right, and center – responsible for all the good and bad happenings in Slovakia.
Second, the prime minister would have won had he not had Andrej Kiska as a contender. Andrej Kiska, apart from his apolitical biography, personal success in life, and successful philanthropic mission, showed characteristics people want to see in every head of state: intelligence, common sense, conciliatory tone, and empathy. It is not that Robert Fico does not have these characteristics, but he has been… prime minister.
Third, Andrej Kiska would not have been elected president if Slovakia had a German type of constitution. As a political outsider he would not have had the chance to run in a suffrage carried out in the most political of institutions – the parliament.
Let us now shift the commentary into more generic legal-political (and a quid pro quo). On the one hand, a nation has the right to elect its head of state in a general election. If so, on the other hand, the nation takes part directly in what can end up in a clinch of executive powers, not conducive at all to the smooth running of public affairs. We experienced this during the cohabitation of Donald Tusk’s first government and the presidency of Lech Kaczyński, the French during Nicolas Sarkozy’s presidency, to give but a few examples.
Now, judging from an accountant’s point of view, the cost of a general election is, of course, higher than electing a head of state in parliament. But from a systemic point of view, this can be considered a marginal issue. More crucial is that a directly elected head of state’s mandate is stronger, with important consequences in the execution of the check and balance rule. The Czechs opted for this and recently elected their president in a general election for the first time since Czech independence in 1993. In Hungary, for the time being, the German model prevails. Just as in Estonia or Latvia (but Lithuania is different, again). My belief is that in a democracy, two centers of executive power is a worse solution, even if one of them has definitely limited prerogatives.
Now back to what happened in Slovakia or rather what next. It seems that Andrej Kiska will execute his mandate first of all as an impartial “referee” at the internal political arena, pointing out to systemic failures of how the Slovaks govern themselves, initiating more public debates about important economic and social issues of the country, and how to rectify them.
And what does his election mean internationally, in particular to the Visegrad Group? I think that the president-elect will quickly find a common language with the other heads of state of the V4; and his foreign policy stands will be constructive, pro-European, and pro-transatlantic, as witnessed during the presidential campaign.
His personal style is friendly and matter of fact. I had the honor to host a meeting with him before the elections. We had a good exchange of views and … Polish pierogi (dumplings). Then he rushed off to Prague, which will be his first foreign destination as president of Slovakia.
The Czechs are dear to him, but so is the rest of the Visegrad, so it seems.
This article reflects the personal views of the author, not the Polish MFA.
Tomasz Chłoń is a Polish diplomat currently serving as ambassador to Slovakia. In 2000-2003, he was Poland’s NATO Political Committee member, steering body of the NATO-Ukraine Commission.