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Slovak populists opposed to Ukraine aid win election

Slovak populists opposed to Ukraine aid win election

The Smer-SD party led by former prime minister Robert Fico scored 23.3 per cent, beating the centrist Progressive Slovakia on 17 per cent, with almost all votes counted. — Reuters pic

BRATISLAVA (Slovakia), Oct 1 — A populist party that wants to stop military aid to Ukraine and is critical of the EU and Nato has won Slovakia’s election, results showed today.

The Smer-SD party led by former prime minister Robert Fico scored 23.3 per cent, beating the centrist Progressive Slovakia on 17 per cent, with almost all votes counted.

The 59-year-old Fico has vowed that Slovakia will not send “a single round of ammunition” to Ukraine and has called for better relations with Russia.

Analysts predict a Fico government could radically change Slovakia’s foreign policy to resemble that of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

Smer is set to clinch 42 seats in the 150-member parliament and so will need coalition partners for a majority.

The leftwing Hlas-SD, which emerged in 2020 when a group of Smer lawmakers quit Fico’s party, is one potential partner, with an expected 27 seats.

Hlas is led by Peter Pellegrini, who became Slovakia’s premier in 2018 after Fico had to step down amid nationwide protests following the murder of journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancee.

Kuciak uncovered links between the Italian mafia and Fico’s government in his last article published posthumously.

Pellegrini told reporters it was not a good idea to have two former prime ministers in a single government, but “that doesn’t mean such a coalition is impossible”.

Analyst Branislav Kovacik from Matej Bel University in the central city of Banska Bystrica told AFP he expected Pellegrini to join in a coalition.

“He may not sit in the cabinet. He may become the parliament speaker, he already did that in the past and did a good job.”

The two parties could team up with the nationalist Slovak National Party (SNS), which is expected to win 10 seats, for a parliamentary majority of 79 seats.

Fico already formed a government with the SNS, which is also opposed to military aid for Ukraine, twice in the past.

Slovakia has been one of Europe’s biggest donors to Ukraine as a share of its GDP.

Slovak Defence Minister Martin Sklenar visited Kyiv just ahead of the vote, and on election day Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky thanked Slovakia for “standing with Ukraine”.

‘Closer to Hungary’

“We must carefully listen to what Fico is very openly saying,” independent analyst Grigorij Meseznikov told AFP.

“He is spreading pro-Russian narratives and... that’s a serious thing. It won’t be so easy to make good on the threat, but... he will try, and we’ll be closer to Hungary then,” he added.

Hungary is seen as a troublemaker in the EU, frequently criticised over rule-of-law issues and hampering EU and Nato efforts to help Ukraine.

Slovakia’s next parliament will also include the centrist OLaNO party of maverick former premier Igor Matovic, in office in 2020-2021, who got involved in a fistfight with a Smer member during the heated campaign.

OLaNO led a three-party coalition that is set to win 16 seats.

The centrist Christian Democrats and the right-wing SaS also garnered enough votes to have seats in parliament.

‘The natural choice’

Voting for Smer in Bratislava, Eliska Spisakova said the party was “the natural choice for the working poor, people like me”.

“I have a high opinion of (Fico), he focuses mainly on the needs of us Slovaks,” she told AFP.

The election campaign was marked by particularly high rates of online disinformation, often targeting Progressive Slovakia chairman Michal Simecka, a European Parliament vice-speaker.

A study by the Globsec think tank last year showed a majority of Slovaks believe popular conspiracy theories.

Slovakia emerged as an independent country in 1993, following a peaceful split with the Czech Republic after Czechoslovakia shed four decades of totalitarian communist rule in 1989.

Although many Slovaks have experience with the Moscow-steered communist regime, many have voted for populists who share Kremlin views. — AFP