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A populist former prime minister, who campaigned on a pro-Russian and anti-American message, appeared to be heading for victory in early parliamentary elections in Slovakia, according to preliminary results on Sunday. The election tested the small Eastern European country’s support for neighboring Ukraine in its war with Russia, and a potential win by Fico could strain the fragile unity in the European Union and NATO.
This election’s outcome is likely to heighten concerns about Slovakia’s future foreign policy direction. At 59 years old, Robert Fico has pledged to halt military assistance to Ukraine, voiced criticism of sanctions against Russia, and campaigned against LGBTQ+ rights.
Initially, exit polls had indicated that Progressive Slovakia (PS) was in the lead, raising expectations within the country’s liberal camp. However, as the votes were tallied throughout the night, those hopes were dashed.
With nearly 88% of approximately 6,000 polling stations reporting their results, former Prime Minister Robert Fico and his leftist Smer party emerged as the leaders with 23.7% of the vote. In second place was the Progressive Slovakia party, a liberal newcomer with a pro-West stance, securing 15.6% of the votes cast on Saturday.
Given that no single party is likely to secure a majority of seats, the formation of a coalition government is on the horizon. The left-wing Hlas (Voice) party, led by Peter Pellegrini, Fico’s former deputy in Smer, came in third place with 15.4% of the vote. While Pellegrini and Fico had previously separated after Smer’s loss in the 2020 election, the possibility of their reunion could enhance Fico’s chances of forming a government.
Pellegrini emphasized the importance of the new coalition being comprised of parties that can find common ground on Slovakia’s priorities and ensure stability and tranquility.
In the rankings, the populist Ordinary People group claimed the fourth position, with the conservative Christian Democrats following in fifth place. Two parties that are close to reaching the 5% threshold needed for representation in the 150-seat National Council might potentially become coalition partners for Fico. These parties are the ultranationalist Slovak National Party, openly pro-Russian, and the Republic movement, a far-right group led by former members of the openly neo-Nazi People’s Party Our Slovakia.
Additionally, the pro-business Freedom and Solidarity party also stands a chance of securing seats in the government. The final election results were anticipated to be announced later on Sunday.
Ukraine Military Support
In Slovakia’s election results revealed on Sunday, a populist party advocating for the cessation of military assistance to Ukraine and expressing criticism towards the European Union and NATO emerged victorious. The 59-year-old Fico has firmly stated that Slovakia will abstain from supplying any military ammunition to Ukraine and has called for improved relations with Russia.
While Fico may face challenges in forming a stable coalition, his triumph raises concerns in Washington and Brussels, as it may introduce another anti-Ukraine perspective within the EU, joining Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. Fico has been against sanctions on Russia and argues that NATO’s support for Ukraine undermines national sovereignty.
Slovak analyst Milan Nič from the German Council on Foreign Relations remarked, “The task for the west now is not to lose Slovakia and engage constructively with Fico, but I think that Moscow is celebrating what will be seen as cracks in Europe’s east and Hungary no longer being alone.”
This snap election outcome marks a remarkable political resurgence for the populist Fico, who is still embroiled in several corruption cases and recently survived an attempt by his adversaries to lift his parliamentary immunity.
Peter Pellegrini, leader of the Hlas party, congratulated Fico on his victory but expressed reservations about having two former prime ministers in one government, though he acknowledged the possibility of such a coalition being formed. Together, the three parties would command a parliamentary majority.
Meanwhile, Michal Simecka, the leader of the PS party, acknowledged SMER-SSD’s victory but voiced concerns about the implications of a Robert Fico-led government, emphasizing the potential negative impact on Slovakia. Analysts warn that a Fico-led government could reshape Slovakia’s foreign policy, aligning it more closely with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, thereby straining unity within the European Union and NATO in their stance against Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022. Fico’s positions also reflect the enduring pro-Russia sentiments among many Slovaks.
The formation of a coalition government and its potential impact on Slovakia’s foreign policy will be closely watched, as Fico’s victory introduces new dynamics into the European political landscape.
The leader of the Hlas party, Peter Pellegrini, offered his congratulations to Fico on his victory but expressed reservations about the potential challenge of having two former prime ministers in the same government. Pellegrini, who once served as Fico’s deputy in Smer, stated, “It’s not ideal, but that doesn’t mean such a coalition can’t be created.”
If these three parties were to form a coalition government, they would command a majority in parliament. On Sunday, the leader of the PS party, Michal Simecka, declared the party’s intention to take action to prevent the winning SMER-SSD party from establishing a government. Simecka acknowledged SMER-SSD’s election victory, but also voiced concerns about its implications for Slovakia. He went on to express even greater apprehension if Robert Fico were to succeed in forming a government.
Analysts anticipate that a Fico-led government could lead to significant shifts in Slovakia’s foreign policy, aligning it more closely with the stance of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Such a development could potentially strain the delicate unity within the European Union and NATO, particularly in the context of their opposing positions on Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022. Fico’s views resonate with the traditionally warm sentiments towards Russia held by many Slovaks.