Slovakia's outgoing president to launch party

Bratislava (AFP) –


Slovakia's outgoing president Andrej Kiska announced plans Wednesday to launch a new political party once his term ends in June, in an apparent bid to challenge the country's populist government.

The move comes days after anti-corruption campaigner Zuzana Caputova, a fellow liberal and vocal government critic, won the weekend's elections to become Slovakia's first female president.

Kiska, whose progressive values are at odds with the populist government, backed the presidential campaign of Caputova, a liberal community lawyer and political novice.

"We've won these elections," Kiska said in a video posted on his Facebook page Wednesday. "We have to win the parliamentary elections as well.

"That's why I'm going to set up a political party," said Kiska, a self-made millionaire who earned his fortune in the US before taking office in 2014.

"I want to unite decent and willing people and change our country for the better," added Kiska, who a recent poll rated as Slovakia's most popular politician.

In the March 30 presidential run-off, Caputova won 58.4 percent of the vote, beating the government-backed contender, EU commissioner Maros Sefcovic, who scored 41.6 percent.

Kiska refused to disclose further details about his new party before mid-June, insisting that he must remain non-partisan until the end of his term.

Like Caputova, Kiska owed his own presidential victory to his image as an untainted political newcomer able to capitalise on voter dissatisfaction over perceived corruption in government.

- 'Voter volatility' -

Despite Kiska's personal popularity however, analysts in Bratislava were cautious Wednesday about the his new party's prospects.

"Given the relatively high volatility of the Slovak voters, it's hard to foresee the effect of this new party on preferences," political analyst Aneta Vilagi told AFP.

Robert Fico, a former prime minister and leader of the governing Smer-SD, ranks as Slovakia's least trusted politician.

He has often clashed with Kiska, most recently in the political crisis triggered by the February 2018 murder of Jan Kuciak, an investigative journalist probing high-level corruption in this eurozone country of 5.4 million people.

Kuciak was gunned down as he was about to publish an explosive report on alleged contacts between top Slovak politicians and Italy's notorious 'Ndrangheta mafia.

Weekly mass protests triggered by his murder brought down Fico's government in March 2018.

But the new government retains most members of Fico's previous administration and, as party leader, he is widely seen as still pulling the strings.

Although Smer-SD, winner of the 2016 general election, has reached historic lows in popularity of around 20 percent in various polls, it remains Slovakia's most popular party.

Behind it is a coalition of centrist non-parliamentary parties including Progressive Slovakia, which Caputova left before the presidential run-off.