Pro-Russia former PM wins Slovakia elections but must forge coalition

By Isaac M October 2, 2023

A pro-Kremlin, anti-American politician has staged a political comeback to win parliamentary elections in Slovakia.

The populist former prime minister Robert Fico is poised to return to power with more than 99% of votes counted, although with no party winning a majority of seats, a coalition government will need to be formed.

It means NATO will have its first leader sympathetic to Vladimir Putin’s Russia, threatening to break a fragile unity over Ukraine.

Mr Fico, who has been compared to Donald Trump and previously resigned following mass protests against corruption, had vowed to withdraw military support for the neighbouring country if he was victorious.

Slovakia, a country of 5.5 million people created in 1993 following the break-up of Czechoslovakia, had to-date been a staunch supporter of Ukraine since Russia invaded last February, donating arms and opening the borders for refugees fleeing the war.

It comes as securing approval for sending more weapons to Ukraine is getting more difficult in many countries.

In the US Congress, a bill to avert a government shutdown in Washington excluded President Joe Biden’s request to provide more security assistance to the war-torn nation.

Mr Fico and his leftist SMER, or Direction, party secured nearly 23% of the votes.

A liberal, pro-West newcomer, the Progressive Slovakia party, was a distant second, with 18% of the votes.

Its leader Michal Simecka, who is deputy president of the European Parliament, said his party respected the result.

“But it’s bad news for Slovakia,” he added.

The left-wing HLAS (Voice) party, led by Mr Fico’s former deputy in SMER, Peter Pellegrini, was in third with 15%.

The president traditionally asks the election winner to try to form a government, so Mr Fico is set to become prime minister again.

He previously held the office in 2006-2010 and again in 2012-2018.

Vladimir Putin (R) welcomes Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico
Image:
Robert Fico with Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin in 2016

Mr Pellegrini parted ways with Mr Fico after SMER lost the previous election in 2020, but a possible reunion would boost the 59-year-old’s chances to form an administration.

Mr Pellegrini said: “It’s not ideal but that doesn’t mean such a coalition can’t be created.”

Another potential coalition partner, the ultranationalist Slovak National Party, a clear pro-Russian group, received 5.7%.

Those three parties would have a parliamentary majority if they joined forces in a coalition government.

Mr Fico has opposed EU sanctions on Russia, questioned whether Ukraine can force out the invading Russian troops and is against Ukraine joining NATO.

He has argued instead of sending arms to Kyiv, the EU and the US should use their influence to force Russia and Ukraine to strike a compromise peace deal.

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Mr Fico’s critics worry his return to power could lead Slovakia to abandon its course in other ways, following the path of Hungary under Prime Minister Viktor Orban and to a lesser extent of Poland under the Law and Justice party.

Hungary has been sanctioned by Brussels for alleged rule-of-law violations and corruption, while EU institutions say Poland has been moving away from the EU’s rule-of-law principles.

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September: Video shows former deputy PMs brawl in Slovakia

Mr Fico has threatened to dismiss investigators from the country’s National Criminal Agency and the special prosecutor who deals with the most serious crimes and corruption.

Hungary has also – unlike other EU countries – maintained close relations with Moscow and argued against supplying arms to Ukraine or providing it with economic assistance.

Mr Fico has also repeated Mr Putin’s unsupported claim that the Ukrainian government runs a Nazi state from which ethnic Russians in the country’s east needed protection.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is Jewish and lost relatives in the Holocaust.

Known for foul-mouthed tirades against journalists, Mr Fico also campaigned against immigration and LGBTQ+ rights.

The populist Ordinary People group, the conservative Christian Democrats and the pro-business Freedom and Solidarity also won seats in parliament.

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