A former prime minister who’s derided the European Union’s sanctions against Russia and wants to end military aid to Ukraine won Slovakia’s election on Saturday in a potential blow to Western unity.
(Bloomberg) — A former prime minister who’s derided the European Union’s sanctions against Russia and wants to end military aid to Ukraine won Slovakia’s election on Saturday in a potential blow to Western unity.
Robert Fico’s Smer party had 22.9% of the vote while the main rival party, Progressive Slovakia, secured 18%, according to the Statistics Office, with 99.9% of voting districts having reported.
His victory adds to the tide of nationalist and populist forces in Europe, which have gained traction by tapping into voters’ frustration over the lingering impact of Covid pandemic, the region’s cost-of-living crisis, and fatigue over the war in Ukraine.
The most dominant political figure in the eastern European nation of 5.4 million since the fall of communism, Fico made his pitch for a fourth term in office with a pledge to boost social spending and challenge EU policy on issues ranging from migration to security to climate.
He resigned in 2018 after a burst of public outrage following the killing of an investigative reporter who probed corruption in Slovakia.
Although he was the front-runner for months, the former premier faced a challenge at the end of the campaign from Progressive Slovakia, which aimed to preserve the country’s trans-Atlantic orientation and democratic institutions.
Fico will still need to find partners to form a government, and has the prospect of forming a ruling coalition with several smaller parties. Results show seven parties entering the latest iteration of Slovakia’s 150-seat parliament.
Progressive Slovakia also has a theoretical chance to form a four-party coalition, but Fico’s party, as the leading vote-getter, will be the first one to try.
An ally of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Fico, 59, has tapped into anxiety in an electorate that is among the most pro-Russian in the 27-member bloc. He was abetted by a social media campaign that included several false claims, making the election a test case for new EU legislation that aims to staunch the spread of illegal or harmful online content.
Slovakia has a track record of political tumult and fractious coalitions, with nine governments since it entered the EU in 2004. Party infighting helped bring down the cabinet of Prime Minister Eduard Heger late last year, an alliance that was elected in 2020 to tackle corruption.
A new government will have to grapple with a widening budget deficit in Slovakia’s $115 billion economy. The euro-area member will need to secure as much as €10 billion ($10.6) from financial markets next year.
Once a Social Democratic reformer, Fico has embraced a populist wave that’s swept Europe — denouncing asylum seekers, opposing Ukraine’s NATO aspirations, and deriding Slovakia’s reformist president, Zuzana Caputova, as an “American agent.”
(Updates with latst results from first paragraph)
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