Slovakia presidential vote's top five candidates


Bratislava (AFP)

An environmental lawyer critical of the government, a European Commissioner backed by the ruling party, a Supreme Court judge and a neo-Nazi leader are among the Slovaks in the running to replace President Andrej Kiska in Saturday's vote.

- The progressive favourite -

Liberal lawyer and community activist Zuzana Caputova was largely unknown before she skyrocketed in polls just weeks before the election.

Gifted with powerful rhetoric, the 45-year-old has condemned widespread corruption and vowed to fight for justice for all. She is the deputy head of the non-parliamentary party Progressive Slovakia.

In 2016, Caputova won the Goldman Environmental Prize, the world's top award for grassroots environmental activism. She is a member of the non-profit organisation Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide.

Endorsed by Kiska, the divorced mother of two teenagers is pro-choice and promotes more rights for same-sex couples, views that may spell trouble in conservative Slovakia.

She says she lacks knowledge in the field of defence and security and admitted "punctuality is not my strong suit".

- The government-backed candidate -

Maros Sefcovic, Caputova's main rival, centred his campaign around the importance of traditional family-oriented policies. The ex-Communist is married with three children.

Though running as an independent, he is backed by the ruling populist-left Smer-SD party.

The 52-year-old EU energy commissioner studied at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations and has held several diplomatic posts, including serving as Slovakia's ambassador to Israel.

A member of the European Commission since 2009 and a vice-president since 2014, Sefcovic is pro-EU but refuses to be seen as "a gentleman from Brussels". He is better known abroad than at home.

Sefcovic enjoys running and playing tennis. He is known for his toothy grin, which earned him the moniker "PresiDENT" in a social media meme.

- A shadow of the past -

Stefan Harabin, a Supreme Court judge, is a former justice minister nominated to the cabinet post by hardline former premier Vladimir Meciar.

While minister, Harabin survived a no-confidence vote over an alleged phone call with a mafia boss. In a controversial 2006 move, he sacked seven regional court presidents in two days without providing a reason. He is also known for several controversial rulings as Supreme Court chief justice.

In the run-up to the election, the ex-Communist and EU critic toured the country in a purple bus decorated with Slovak emblems that he eponymously dubbed "Harabinak".

The 61-year-old has repeatedly been slammed for sharing migrant-related fake news on Facebook.

The anti-establishment candidate is in favour of scrapping EU sanctions against Russia.

- A far-right lawmaker -

Marian Kotleba, the former regional governor of his native Banska Bystrica, is notorious for having led street marches with party members dressed in neo-Nazi uniforms. He was previously charged with hate speech, though never convicted.

An opposition MP for his LSNS party, Kotleba is hostile to both the Roma minority and the established elite and has expressed nostalgia for the puppet state of Father Jozef Tiso, an ally of Nazi Germany.

The 41-year-old former high school teacher sports a pencil moustache and has masters degrees in education and economics.

His far-right party campaigned heavily against letting migrants into the country and won seats in parliament for the first time in 2016, but it now faces the threat of a Supreme Court ban.

- An ethnic Hungarian MP -

The only candidate representing the 8.5-percent-strong community of ethnic Hungarians in Slovakia, Bela Bugar has a face so well-known that he left his name off most of his campaign billboards.

He has been a lawmaker for 27 years, making him one of the longest-serving members of parliament. He is the leader of the Most-Hid party, a junior member of the governing coalition.

Dubbed "the discount-store George Clooney of Slovak politics" by a local journalist, he is charming and speaks Slovak with a Hungarian accent. The avid gardener takes weekly English lessons.

Pro-EU and pro-NATO, the 60-year-old father of one does not support same-sex marriage or adoption and is against euthanasia.