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Slovaks Reject Ex-Premier, Elect Gasparovic President

Meciar: Will he go quietly? 18 April 2004 -- Slovaks have chosen former parliamentary speaker Ivan Gasparovic to succeed Rudolf Schuster as the country's president.

Gasparovic defeated former political ally and ex-Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar 60 percent to 40 percent in a runoff election held on 17 April, according to unofficial figures released following the balloting.

Gasparovic has said he wants to find common ground with center-right Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda. He also said he will seek to make Slovakia's integration into the European Union a smooth process.

The president -- a post that serves a largely ceremonial function in Slovakia -- will help guide Slovakia through its first years of membership of NATO and the EU.

Slovakia officially joined NATO earlier this month and is due to join the EU on 1 May.

Gasparovic is due to take over from President Schuster in mid-June.

The specter of a Meciar victory was anathema to many in the West who had accused the firebrand ex-communist of leading Slovakia into isolation and lawlessness during his three stints as prime minister.

Local media and analysts described Meciar's defeat as the greatest blow of his political career. "The citizens were mobilized more than expected," said Michal Vesecka of Slovakia's Institute for Public Affairs. "Many forecasts predicting that if there is high turnout, the victory will go to Gasparovic, and if it is low, it will go Meciar, seem to have strongly influenced the voters. They went to the polling stations in much higher numbers than expected."

Meciar blamed his defeat on tacit support for Gasparovic among the governing coalition. He declined to congratulate Gasparovic on the victory in a live broadcast following the announcement of unofficial results, saying he has "nothing to talk about with a man who called me a liar publicly."