2004-03-05 07:59:00
Embassy Bratislava
Cable title:  

Next President: Kukan, Schuster, or Meciar?

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E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Next President: Kukan, Schuster, or Meciar?




E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Next President: Kukan, Schuster, or Meciar?

1. Sensitive but unclassified. Please protect accordingly.

2. (U) Summary. As the April 3 first round of presidential
elections draw near, three candidates have emerged as the
strongest: Foreign Minister and SDKU candidate Eduard Kukan;
President Rudolf Schuster; and HZDS Chairman and former
Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar. While politicians and polls
indicate Kukan is the favorite in the first round with 26-27
percent, Meciar has been gaining ground and Schuster is not
so far behind. Most Slovaks agree Meciar could make it to
the second round, with the most likely scenario a replay of
the 2002 Parliamentary elections where HZDS appeared strong
but SDKU and its allies strengthened in the end when voters
recalled the reality of Slovakia's isolation under Meciar in
the 1990s. The difference from 2002 is the lack of an NGO
"Get Out the Vote" effort which, when combined with possible
voter apathy and backlash against Kukan's SDKU party for
recent economic and social reforms, could create an upset.
End summary.

Kukan Still Leads Polls

3. (SBU) With the elections a month away, polls show a more
or less consistent level of support for each candidate, but
a month is a long time in Slovak politics and in the mind of
the Slovak voter. Candidates have unofficially campaigned
to various degrees but the two official campaign weeks
immediately before the election will determine which two
candidates pass to the April 17 second round. There are
three realistic possibilities for the second round: (in
order of likelihood) Kukan vs. Meciar, Kukan vs. Schuster,
or Schuster vs. Meciar. In a February 11-17 Focus agency
poll, of those who intended to vote, 27.5 percent favored
Kukan, 23.1 percent supported Meciar, and 17.5 percent would
vote for Schuster. In an MVK poll published March 2, when
asked whom they would support in a Kukan-Meciar runoff, 62.9
percent chose Kukan and 37.1 percent selected Meciar.
Virtually all contacts and voters to whom poloffs have
spoken refer to each potential runoff as a "lesser of two
evils" choice in which Kukan or Schuster would win against
Meciar, with Kukan also likely to win over Schuster. SDKU
contacts have cited current poll results as reason enough
Kukan will win, but the true campaigning has yet to begin.

Meciar's Populism Has Enduring Appeal

4. (SBU) Meciar and HZDS still enjoy substantial popular
support. The party and the man remain indivisible
politically and operationally. Opposition MPs indicate many
Slovaks are tired of crushing economic and social reforms
and criticism from the EU and U.S., and they consider Meciar
to be the only one who "stands up" for Slovakia. But many
agree that Meciar, despite changing his rhetoric to support
EU integration and reform, still does not have enough
sympathy among the public to win and is not considered a
vote for change, as much as voters may dislike their
economic situation.

Schuster's Support Unclear

5. (SBU) Schuster may end up with Smer's endorsement, as its
chairman Robert Fico has said positive things about Schuster
in the media and would be unlikely to support archrival
Meciar or coalition candidate Kukan. However, Schuster
seems to have lost the labor unions to Meciar.

6. (SBU) Opposition politicians have told poloffs Kukan's
poll numbers seem high considering his closeness to PM
Dzurinda and public discontent over economic reforms that
took place en masse at the beginning of this year. However,
there are many layers between personalities and policy, and
many observers doubt party affiliation or support has the
same strong effect as in parliamentary elections. Thus,
voters are unlikely to make this connection between the
actions of the SDKU-led coalition and Kukan himself. For
example, in the 1992 Parliamentary elections, voters
supported a united Czechoslovakia yet voted for Meciar,
whose goal was a separate Slovak state.


7. (SBU) Meciar, if he gets to the second round, will appeal
to labor unions, nationalists, and his traditional
supporters. (Even Kukan's own campaign manager admitted
privately that his family in eastern Slovakia would vote for
no one but Meciar.) Meciar may also benefit from the
widespread discontent of Roma and other socially and
economically disadvantaged citizens, who are angry at the

government and so will vote against Kukan, the "government
candidate". A vote "against" could combine with apathy
resulting in a low turnout which could create an upset.

8. (SBU) Political analysts close to the Embassy believe
those who strongly oppose Meciar and would come out
specifically to vote against him outnumber his strong
supporters, making the prospect of a Meciar victory possible
but unlikely at this point. One respected pollster opined
in the media that Meciar could win only if turnout is very

9. (SBU) The possibility of a Meciar victory raises the
question of a U.S. response. We took an active, albeit
nuanced, approach to his candidacy in 2002, including a
major nonpartisan GOTV effort. No one was in doubt as to
our position, which was a topic of great interest in
Slovakia. So far, our position in 2004 has not been a
subject of inquiry, public or private. It would be
premature at this juncture for us to engage. Doing so in
the current political climate might possibly enhance his
attractiveness to some voters. If he gets to the second
round, we will then want to consider his electoral prospects
and decide how to react. End Comment.