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A liberal, pro-Nato party was ahead in Slovakia’s elections on Saturday, according to exit polls, but with a slim margin over the party of an anti-Ukraine former prime minister, which could complicate the formation of a solid government coalition.
Michal Šimečka and his liberal Progressive Slovakia party won 23.5 per cent of the votes, putting him ahead of former premier Robert Fico and his Smer party on 21.9 per cent, according to an exit poll by agency Focus for TV Markiza. Fico had been the frontrunner for most of the campaign.
Slovakia’s snap election had raised alarm bells in Washington and Brussels, who feared that Fico’s return to power would add another anti-Ukraine voice to that of Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán within the EU. Fico has opposed sanctions against Russia and also claims Nato-led support for Ukraine undermines national sovereignty.
If the exit polls are correct, Šimečka, 39, will be given the first opportunity to negotiate the creation of a ruling coalition. This in itself would be a remarkable success for a liberal party that failed to win enough votes to enter parliament in the last election.
Šimečka is a former journalist, including briefly for the FT, who is now a member of the European parliament. He has been fighting Fico by calling for stronger EU unity to help Ukraine win the war against Russia.
But the fragmentation of Slovakia’s big parties means the exit polls also provide little certainty as to which of the smaller parties will meet the thresholds required to sit in parliament and take part in coalition talks. The Focus exit poll was released shortly after voting stations closed at 10.45pm. Final results are not expected until early Sunday.
The election campaign had been tense, with candidates exchanging insults and even physical blows. Fico has returned to the forefront of politics despite being entangled in several corruption cases. Last year Fico survived an attempt by his opponents to lift his parliamentary immunity. He was forced to resign as prime minister in 2018 amid mass street protests sparked by the murders of a journalist who investigated corruption and his fiancée.
Since May Slovakia has been run by a technocratic government, appointed by president Zuzana Čaputová to stop the country from slipping into further political chaos after the previous coalition government imploded amid infighting.
The Hlas party of another former prime minister, Peter Pellegrini, came third with 12.2 per cent of the votes, according to the Focus exit poll. Pellegrini replaced Fico in office but then had a fallout with his former mentor and left the Smer party to form instead Hlas.
Pellegrini could now become a junior partner to Šimečka and his Progressive Slovakia, although other smaller parties would also need to join this coalition in order to avoid a hung parliament.
Source: Financial Times