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Robert Fico wins Slovakia election with anti-Ukraine stance

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Anti-Ukraine former prime minister Robert Fico won Saturday’s elections in Slovakia, putting himself on track to try to form a coalition government that could undermine western efforts to stay united in helping Kyiv in its war against Russia.

Fico and his Smer party were on almost 23 per cent, ahead of Michal Šimečka and his liberal Progressive Slovakia party on almost 18 per cent, according to preliminary results early on Sunday, with 99 per cent of the votes counted. Šimečka’s party had topped exit polls late on Saturday.

While Fico may find it hard to form a stable coalition, his victory will raise alarm bells in Washington and Brussels because it could bring another anti-Ukraine voice into the EU alongside Hungary’s prime minister Viktor Orbán. Fico has opposed sanctions against Russia and also claims that Nato-led support for Ukraine undermines national sovereignty.

“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,” said Slovak analyst Milan Nič, of the German Council on Foreign Relations.

The outcome of the snap election amounts to a stunning political revival for the populist Fico, who remains entangled in several corruption cases and last year 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 murder of a journalist who investigated corruption and his fiancée.

Fico now needs to find enough allies among Slovakia’s fragmented political parties to avoid another hung parliament. Since May the country has had a technocratic government, appointed by president Zuzana Čaputová after the previous coalition imploded.

A potential kingmaker in forming a new government is the Hlas party of another former prime minister, Peter Pellegrini, which came third with 14.7 per cent of the votes. Pellegrini replaced Fico in office before he fell out with his former mentor and left Smer to form Hlas.

“There seems to be a path for Fico to have a working coalition” if he joined forces with a smaller ultranationalist party and mended his relationship with Pellegrini, Nič said. The three parties together would have 79 of the 150 seats in parliament.

Fico could offer Pellegrini a chance to run for the Slovak presidency next year with Smer’s backing, Nič said. The race was thrown open after the popular Čaputová said in June that she would not seek re-election.

Pavol Demeš, a former Slovak foreign minister, said: “Fico will not be as strong as Orbán, but the EU has already been struggling to keep unity on Ukraine and I’m sure international policymakers will be worried about how far Fico can go in terms of fulfilling all the rhetoric from his campaign.”

Michal Šimečka, centre, and his Progressive Slovakia party had topped exit polls after Saturday’s vote © Vladimir Simicek/AFP/Getty Images

Šimečka, 39, had called for stronger EU unity to help Ukraine and warned against bringing smaller Slovakia closer to Hungary’s pro-Russia orbit.

While Fico and his nominally centre-left Smer party were the frontrunners almost throughout the election campaign, Šimečka appeared to stage a late surge, something that exit polls appeared to confirm.

“Younger and more modern progressive Slovaks will have a crazy hangover now” after starting their celebrations in Bratislava late Saturday when exit polls were announced, said Demeš.

Nič said the failure of exit pollsters to call the result showed that “Smer voters did not talk to them after voting because they see them as part of the political mainstream”.

Fico won by “spreading fear”, wrote Beata Balogová, the editor of newspaper SME, in an article published on Sunday. “He made enough people believe that liberalism and human rights can be a bigger threat to citizens than widespread corruption and sentiment for [Russian president Vladimir] Putin’s regime.”

Four of the 11 main parties in the election failed to clear the 5 per cent threshold to enter parliament, including the far-right Republika party, which scored 4.75 per cent according to preliminary results and had been expected to help Fico after the vote. But the Slovak National (SNS) party, which shares Fico’s anti-migration message, got 5.6 per cent.

Smer and SNS are likely to wade into a revived debate about illegal migration across central Europe. Fico has promised to clamp down on migrants, just as Germany and Poland recently reintroduced checks at some of their borders, despite being part of the border-free Schengen area.

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