November 25, 2013 - 10:11 AMT
“Neo-Nazi” extremist elected regional governor in Slovakia

A Slovak right-wing extremist known for anti-Roma views has been elected a regional governor after a surprise win in polls this weekend, official results showed Sunday, November 24, according to Agence France-Presse.

Ultra-nationalist Marian Kotleba, 36, garnered 55.5 percent of the vote in the run-off election in the central Slovak region of Banska Bystrica. He defeated incumbent leftwinger Vladimir Manka of Slovakia's governing Smer-Social Democrat party who scored 44.5 percent.

Analysts had given Kotleba a slim chance of winning against Manka, who had polled almost 30 percentage points ahead in the first round of voting two weeks ago.

At that time, Smer leader Prime Minister Robert Fico had said he had "no doubts" his party colleague Manka would win the second round.

Originally a high school teacher, Kotleba is a former leader of the banned far-right Slovenska Pospolitost (Slovak Community) and current head of the ultra-nationalist Our Slovakia party, whose members sport World War II Nazi-style uniforms at rallies.

He has repeatedly been detained and charged with hate speech, chiefly against Slovakia's large, poverty stricken Roma minority.

In the run-up to the election he threatened to evict Roma from an unauthorised shanty town on land he bought recently in the eastern Slovak town of Krasnohorske Podhradie.

Kotleba ran no election campaign and appeared in just one televised pre-election debate, where he demanded cuts in unemployment and social benefits for the Roma minority.

Around half of Slovakia's 400,000 Roma are fully integrated into society while the remainder live in some 650 shanty towns without electricity, sewage or running water located mostly in eastern Slovakia.

Marian Lesko, a political analyst from the Trend business weekly told AFP Sunday that Kotelba could use the governor's chair as a "starting point to build support on a national level and run in the 2016 general election."

Voter apathy that is characteristic of regional elections in Slovakia, saw just 17.3 percent of the 4.4 million eligible voters casting ballots.

A member of the European Union since 2004 and of the eurozone since 2009, Slovakia with 5.4 million people posted two-percent growth last year and is expected to expand by 0.8 percent this year.

But 14 percent unemployment has troubled the economy driven by exports of cars and electronics to Europe, mostly Germany.