Slovakia’s Fico to get mandate for government talks after election win

By Jason Hovet and Jan Lopatka

(Reuters) -Slovakia’s leftist election winner Robert Fico will get a mandate on Monday to begin talks on a governing coalition after steering his party to an election victory over the weekend with promises to stop military aid to Ukraine.

Fico campaigned on rhetoric that would shift Slovakia, a European Union and NATO member state, close to Hungary as EU countries challenging the bloc’s consensual support of Ukraine against Russia. But the fact Fico will need other parties to form a coalition might prevent any sharp policy turn.

President Zuzana Caputova will meet Fico, a three-time prime minister, at 3 p.m. (1300 GMT), and she said the mandate for government negotiations would have time limits, without specifying what the deadline would be.

“The coming days will be a time of political negotiations, especially between political parties, but also between me and the leaders of the parties,” Caputova, a liberal who has a tense relationship with Fico, said in a statement.

“At the same time, the next few days will show which parties will be able to find a majority in parliament to support their coalition.”

The pro-Russian Fico and his SMER-SSD party won nearly 23% of the vote on Saturday, ahead of liberal challenger Progresivne Slovensko (Progressive Slovakia, PS) with 18%.

Fico is expected to turn to HLAS (Voice), a more pro-European party which split off from SMER in 2020, and most likely the pro-Russian Slovak National Party (SNS), which won 5.6% of the vote, to form a majority coalition.

HLAS, led by Fico’s former colleague and prime minister Peter Pellegrini, could exert a moderating influence in a SMER-led government, or support a potential PS-led coalition if negotiations with SMER fail.

Though he turned increasingly anti-Western in opposition, analysts say Fico can be pragmatic, as shown when as premier he led Slovakia into the euro zone and avoided major clashes with allies.

Fico has said he would end military supplies from army storage to Ukraine, which has a small border with Slovakia to the west, and that sending more weapons prolonged the war touched off by Russia’s February 2022 invasion.

Fico’s pledge, however, may have limited practical impact as analysts say Slovakia has already provided much of what it could spare.

On Sunday, he reiterated that he supported humanitarian and reconstruction aid for Ukraine but not military, and called for peace talks – a line similar to that of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban but rejected by Ukraine and its Western allies, who say this would only encourage Russia.

In his campaign, Fico also called for tougher action against rising illegal migration and reining in a surge in living costs. On Sunday, he said Slovaks had bigger problems than Ukraine.

A Fico-led government would signal a further shift in central Europe away from political liberalism, which would be reinforced if Poland’s ruling conservative nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party wins re-election later this month.

The next Slovak government must also tackle a soaring budget deficit, making continued EU funding critical, which analysts say could motivate Fico to limit any disputes with Brussels.

Pellegrini told reporters on Sunday that with HLAS in a ruling coalition, voters did not need to worry about a significant change in Slovakia’s foreign policy.

“We will do everything to make sure nothing dramatic happens,” he said.

(Reporting by Jason Hovet and Jan Lopatka; editing by Andrew Heavens and Mark Heinrich)