A pro-European party that pledges to keep Slovakia within the trans-Atlantic fold is emerging as the main contender against the country’s firebrand frontrunner weeks before a crucial election.
(Bloomberg) — A pro-European party that pledges to keep Slovakia within the trans-Atlantic fold is emerging as the main contender against the country’s firebrand frontrunner weeks before a crucial election.
The Sept. 30 contest may pit former Prime Minister Robert Fico’s Smer, an anti-immigrant party that has attacked European Union sanctions on Russia, against Progressive Slovakia, a party that’s sworn to defend democratic institutions, the rule of law and LGBTQ rights.
Smer maintains a clear lead with about 23% support, while Progressive Slovakia has climbed to 17% — up by about a third since the beginning of the year — according to an NMS Market Research poll published Thursday. Both parties have eclipsed Voice, a party that led polls in January.
The showdown would make Slovakia a key electoral battleground between a party co-founded by the nation’s reformist president, Zuzana Caputova, and populist forces that have swept across Europe and threatened the unity of the 27-member bloc and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
Fico, once an ally of European Social Democrats, has steered Smer out of the EU mainstream with his pledge to stop military support for Ukraine and oppose Russian sanctions, while escalating rhetoric against the US. The former premier, who governed Slovakia for 10 years in three separate terms, was ousted in 2018 amid protests sparked by the murder of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak.
Read More: Slovak Firebrand’s Push to Block Help for Ukraine Hits Trouble
Founded in 2017, Progressive Slovakia secured a victory two years later in the presidential race as Caputova pledged to restore public trust and a fight against corruption. Slovakia’s first female president, Caputova announced in June that she wouldn’t run for a second term in 2024, saying she didn’t have the energy for another five years after years of vitriolic attacks by opponents.
The center-left party is gaining voters who supported the coalition under Premier Eduard Heger, which collapsed in December. That alliance, which unraveled amid persistent infighting over spending during the region’s cost-of-living crisis, was elected in 2020 on a post-Fico reformist agenda.
“Slovakia must be a respected, constructive, and confident member of the European Union and NATO so that we can also pursue our own interests,” Michal Simecka, the party’s 39-year-old leader and a vice president of the European Parliament, told Bloomberg via a statement from his office on Thursday.
The party is counting on voters flocking to its promise to return a degree of normalcy to a political environment buffeted by Fico’s strident language, three years of chaotic governance and accusations of corruption.
“It can be done, normally and professionally,” reads a campaign poster weeks ahead of the election.
Still, Fico is also gaining steam, helped by far-right voters. Smer has climbed 2.7 percentage points since July, according to the Aug. 1-7 NMS poll, which surveyed 1,416 potential voters.
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