Newcomer Kiska makes surprise win for presidency.

Slovakia has known rapid and unexpected changes in its political fortune in its 20 years as an independent country. Former premiers Vladimír Meiar—who some market watchers have contended almost destroyed Slovakia’s young political system in the 1990s before finally being ostracized—and Mikuláš Dzurinda—who transformed its economy into one of Central Europe’s most enviable, only to be voted out of power in 2006—are overt examples. However, even by Slovak standards, the upset of March 29 is a surprise. In elections for the presidency, Robert Fico, the country’s wily center-left prime minister, was defeated by Andrej Kiska, a man few Slovaks, and even fewer foreigners, have ever heard of. In the second round of voting, with most of the first round candidates advising their supporters to support Kiska, he won almost 60% against Fico’s 40%.

Kiska is a business tycoon with connections to many philanthropic causes, including an organization called Good Angel that supports children with severe health problems. During the campaign his main themes were national unity and a desire to be an independent head of state for all Slovaks, irrespective of background or political beliefs. He assumes office on June 15 without any practical political experience or connection to any party.

In some respects this turn of events doesn’t matter: The presidency is largely ceremonial, and being free from political connections is seen by many as a plus—particularly by younger voters in this increasingly prosperous nation. Indeed, the main concern of voters seemed to be that a Fico win would mean almost total dominance of his center-left SMER (Forward) party. Older Slovaks have particularly bad memories of autocratic rule under an entrenched Slovak political party: Former premier Meiar took Slovakia out of Czechoslovakia without a referendum and was known for his abuses of power. In Kiska, Slovaks have voted for someone very different, who, having lived in the US, seems determined to break with the often-claustrophobic world of Slovak politics.