Sunday, April 14, 2024

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Slovakia’s previous prime minister, Robert Fico, has emerged as the victor in the country’s election.


The Smer party, led by ex-Prime Minister Robert Fico, emerged victorious in Slovakia’s election on Saturday. They promised to halt weapon exports to Ukraine, prevent Kyiv from joining NATO, and resist imposing sanctions on Russia.

With 98 percent of ballots counted in the country of 5.5 million people, Smer had 23.4 percent of the vote, ahead of the liberal, Western-oriented Progressive Slovakia by nearly seven percentage points and almost 200,000 votes. The election winner gets the first chance to form a majority in the 150-seat parliament.

Fico’s political campaign has sparked concern throughout Europe as there are worries that he will align Slovakia with the anti-Ukraine stance of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. Fico has strongly supported Moscow and promised to halt arms sales to Kyiv, even going against sanctions despite Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine for over 18 months.

Although Slovakia is highly divided, Fico remains in a favorable position to regain power with the backing of Hlas, a social-democratic party that broke away from Smer. Hlas placed third with 15 percent in the election on Saturday.

Peter Pellegrini, who became Slovakia’s leader in 2018 after the political turmoil following the murder of investigative journalist Ján Kuciak, is the leader of Hlas. After Smer’s loss in the 2020 election, Pellegrini broke ties with the party and Fico to establish Hlas with 10 Smer MPs who defected.

In February, Pellegrini continued to discredit Fico as a “politician of the past” who is unable to provide hope or a vision for Slovakia in the 21st century. However, it is evident that Fico is focused on looking towards the future rather than dwelling on the past.

Pro-Russia rhetoric

“This has been a trauma for all of us,” Fico told a political rally in his hometown of Topoľčany on August 30. “We have two parties here with the same social program, who come from the same roots in Smer, and who know each other. So I think the basis for a successful, stable, sovereign socially-oriented government should be cooperation between Smer and Hlas.”

Following the announcement of the election outcome at 4 a.m. on Sunday, Pellegrini stated that he anticipated receiving an offer for cooperation from Fico. He also acknowledged that it is possible for such a coalition to be formed, despite the potential challenges of having two former prime ministers in the same government.

Fico has the potential to form a coalition with the Slovak National Party (SNS), which received 5.7 percent of support. SNS previously joined Smer in government during two terms, from 2006-2010 and 2016-2020. SNS leader Andrej Danko expressed optimism for a future government that is “pro-nation” and “pro-social.”

According to their election outcomes, the three parties would hold 81 seats in the legislative body, giving them a majority of six seats.

SLOVAKIA NATIONAL PARLIAMENT ELECTION POLL OF POLLS

To access further survey information from various European countries, please go to POLITICO’s Poll of Polls.

The end outcome might make Michal Šimečka, the head of Progressive Slovakia, feel like he lost despite being on the brink of victory. Initial polling results after the polls closed on Saturday evening showed PS with a slight lead over Smer, giving the former journalist, Oxford PhD holder, and member of the European Parliament hope that he could potentially win his first term as prime minister.

Also securing representation in parliament were the grassroots OĽaNO party (9.2 percent); the Christian Democrats (7 percent); and the liberal Freedom and Solidarity (5.9 percent). No other party topped 5 percent, the cut-off level for parliamentary representation. The far-right Republika narrowly missed out with 4.9 percent.

The Saturday vote is seen as crucial for Slovakia’s future, not just because Fico has promised to stop providing assistance to Ukraine, but also because of his pro-Moscow stance in a country that is part of NATO. In a speech to the people of Topoľčany in August, Fico stated that the conflict in Ukraine did not begin a year ago, but rather in 2014 when Ukrainian Nazis and fascists began killing Russian citizens in the Donbas and Luhansk regions.

Fico also eulogized the Soviet Union for having allegedly liberated the Czech and Slovak lands from Nazi Germany at the end of World War II. “For God’s sake, they liberated us, we should show some respect,” he admonished his listeners. “We need to tell the whole world, freedom came from the East, war always comes from the West,” he said.

Fico assured his supporters at the August rally that the Red Army’s triumph will be remembered by Smer constantly, without any doubt.

Rastislav Kačer, a former Slovak foreign minister and career diplomat, expressed doubt about Fico’s true stance on Russia during his campaign, but also warned that his populism posed a threat to the country. According to Kačer, the issue at hand is not simply Fico’s pro-Russian or anti-Western views, but rather a conflict between corrupt authoritarianism and the democratic, liberal order.

Kačer stated that Mr. Fico draws inspiration from Orbán’s style of governing, which is based on Putin’s political tactics. It is possible that he does not actually intend to follow through with all of his statements. He likely believes that he can deceive the public once again by stirring up anti-Western sentiments and pretending to be rebellious against the EU and NATO, only to then act as if nothing has occurred.

“However, this time he is taking it too far. He is reshaping society, adopting Russian and Orbán-style propaganda,” stated Kačer. “He is treading down a very perilous path.”