Slovakia profile - Leaders

  • 22 April 2015
  • From the section Europe

President: Andrej Kiska

Slovak president-elect Andrej Kiska
Image caption Mr Kiska was a new to politics when he was elected as president

Philanthropist and former businessman Andrej Kiska was elected president in March 2014.

He won a run-off election against the country's social democratic prime minister, Robert Fico, whose defeat was considered highly significant: if he had become head of state, his party would have controlled the presidency as well as the government.

Mr Kiska campaigned on the need to have a healthy balance of power between the president and the Cabinet, and called for a strengthening of the independence of the judiciary where the president appoints important personnel.

He made his fortune through consumer credit companies that he sold, setting up a charity to help families with ill children.

The presidency is largely ceremonial, but the president has the power to pick the prime minister, appoint Constitutional Court judges and veto laws. A parliamentary majority can override vetoes.

Prime minister: Robert Fico

Mr Fico's leftist Smer party won a landslide victory in early general elections in March 2012 - the first time since independence that a party had gained an absolute majority in the Slovak parliament.

Image caption Robert Fico's party won a landslide victory in 2012

The centre-right coalition of Iveta Radicova, which had governed since June 2010, was routed in a poll dominated by a corruption scandal that engulfed its main parties.

Known as a straight-talking populist, Robert Fico was born to a working-class family in the provincial town of Topolcany in 1964 and trained as a lawyer in Communist Czechoslovakia.

He became a member of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia in 1987, and after the Velvet Revolution of 1989 joined the Party of the Democratic Left (SDL) - a successor of the Communist Party of Slovakia.

In 1999 he founded his own party, Direction-Social Democracy (Smer), when it became clear that the SDL was a spent force.

He raised his public profile by sharply criticising the radical economic reform programme implemented by the centre-right governments of Mikulas Dzurinda (1998-2006), which although hailed by investors and international financial institutions was not popular with ordinary Slovaks.

Mr Dzurinda's policies were seen as having stimulated growth - earning Slovakia the nickname of "the central European tiger" - but were associated with high levels of unemployment and were seen as having a disproportionately negative effect on low wage-earners and welfare recipients.

During the 2006 election campaign, Smer strove to project itself as a modern, socialist and pro-European party, but found it hard to maintain this image after it had formed a government in coalition with various ultra-nationalist and populist parties who were also opposed to Mr Dzurinda's policies.

Mr Fico led Slovakia into the eurozone during his first stint as prime minister in 2006-2010, but his government's record of deteriorating relations with the country's Hungarian minority also tarnished its reputation in the eyes of the EU.

Smer emerged as the largest grouping in the 2010 general election, but was unable to form a government and was ousted by a centre-right coalition led by Iveta Radicova, Slovakia's first female prime minister.

Ms Radicova's government collapsed in October 2011 in a dispute between the coalition partners over whether Slovakia should support an expanded eurozone bailout fund, and the corruption scandal that broke in December completed public disillusionment with the ruling coalition.

Mr Fico made defending the eurozone and boosting social welfare two of the main planks of his 2012 election campaign. He has promised to introduce higher taxes for the rich, but has also pledged to stick with the previous government's policy of reducing the deficit.

Mr Fico made an unsuccessful bid for the presidency in 2014.