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Elections

Polls close in Slovakia runoff election

Voters in Slovakia have cast their ballots in a run-off election to choose their president. The result is expected to be extremely close.

Saturday's vote saw Prime Minister Robert Fico (r. above) face off against political newcomer Andrej Kiska (l. above).

The runoff comes after a first round of voting on March 15 saw Social Democrat Fico, 49, winning 28 percent to narrowly beat centrist Kiska, 51, on 24 percent. Results are expected around midnight local time (23:00 UTC).

Fico, an ex-Communist, came to power with his Smer party after sweeping a parliamentary election in 2012.

Some Slovaks feel that a victory for Fico in the presidentials could result in his party amassing too much power, endangering the country's democracy.

This fear is likely to fuel support for Kiska, a businessman turned philanthropist with no Communist past. Kiska has campaigned as an independent without a party.

The president has the power to name or approve some of the main figures in the judicial branch.

Rough campaign tactics

Campaigning turned tough in the last weeks, with Fico accusing Kiska of usury in consumer lending firms he used to own, for which Kiska filed a criminal complaint against his opponent.

Kiska has also vehemently denied that he is close to the Church of Scientology, as claimed by Fico, who has emphasized his own Catholicism. Critics of Scientology say it is a cult that extorts money from its members and harrasses them if they try to quit.

A majority of Slovaks identify themselves as Roman Catholic.

The next president will be sworn in on June 15 and replace incumbent Ivan Gasparovic, who has held the post for two terms and is barred by the constitution from running again.

Slovakia, which has a population of 5.4 million, is a member both of the European Union and the eurozone.

tj/msh (AFP, Reuters)

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