The first round of a presidential election in Slovakia has narrowed down to Robert Fico, prime minister, and political newcomer Andrej Kiska.
Fico managed to win 28 percent of the vote to Kiska's 24 percent on Saturday, prompting a need for a second-round vote that will either cement the rulling party's power on March 29 or usher in an independent, Reuters news agency reported.
Victory for the ex-Communist Fico would mean the presidency, parliament and government is controlled by the same party, the Social Democrats, for the first time since Slovakia won independence in 1993.
Fico, 49, has earned valuable political capital during his two terms as prime minister with an anti-austerity agenda tempered by fiscal discipline, according to the AFP news agency.
Kiska, a 51-year-old businessman turned philanthropist is regarded as politically untainted and has seen his chances grow with voters worried over giving Fico too much power.
This worry has lifted Kiska, who made millions of dollars in consumer credit companies which he sold a decade ago before starting a charity to help families with ill children.
But analysts also say Kiska lacks a clear political vision, and Fico has denied he would seek more power, campaigning instead on his experience as prime minister for six years, including leading the government in 2006-10.
The Slovak constitution does not grant the president himself a huge political role, but he has the power to name or approve some of the main figures in the country's prosecution and judicial branches.
This right has led to political clashes in the past.
Rule of law is a key concern for investors.
Slovakia has lured big foreign manufacturers such as carmakers Kia and Volkswagen, which have helped keep growth at decent levels even as others in central Europe slipped into recession amid the eurozone crisis.