Popular former prime minister Robert Fico’s Smar party is poised to win Slovakia’s election, winning more support than its rival in Progressive Slovakia in a dramatic knife-edge race.
With more than 98% districts Reporting, Smr is set to get 23% of the vote. Michal Šimečka’s Progressive Slovakia (PS) came second with just over 16%, followed by Peter Pellegrini’s Hlas with 15%.
The election result will further fuel fears about Slovakia’s future foreign policy. Fico, 59, has pledged to end military aid to Ukraine, criticized sanctions targeting Russia and campaigned against LGBTQ+ rights.
Exit polls initially saw the PS jump to first place, raising expectations in the country’s liberal camp. But that hope was dashed as the votes were counted throughout the night.
Still, the shape of Slovakia’s next government is unclear and will depend on forming a complex coalition with smaller parties including Peter Pellegrini’s HLAS and Igor Madovic’s Oceano.
Former Fico colleague and Hlas chief Pellegrini could become kingmaker. His party has so far kept its options open and has refused to say which party it will support, but is widely believed to favor a coalition with Smar rather than the socially liberal PS.
The first party across the border was expected to receive a mandate from President Zuzana Kaputova to hold talks on building a parliamentary majority and, if successful, forming a government.
The final districts to report from the big cities were expected to favor the PS, but the gap behind Fico was too big.
A government led by Fico and his Smar-SSD party will see NATO member Slovakia join Hungary in challenging the EU’s consensus on support for Ukraine, while maintaining unity in resisting Russian aggression.
“We want to evaluate everything, so we’ll wait for the final tally,” said Smar-SSD candidate and longtime Figo ally Robert Kalinak, adding that the party will comment on the full results later Sunday.
The PS party has argued for Slovakia’s strong support for Ukraine, and for the federation to pursue a liberal policy within the EU on issues such as more flexible, greener policies and majority voting on LGBTQ+ rights.
Chimeka has not given up hope that the next government can be formed depending on how the small coalition fares.
“After this election, our aim is to have a stable pro-European government in Slovakia, which will observe the rule of law and start to address and invest in key areas for our future,” Cimeka, a member of the European Parliament and former reporter and Oxford graduate, told supporters.
The incoming government in the country of 5.5 million people will assume a budget deficit forecast that is the highest in the euro zone.
Fico is unhappy with a warring centre-right coalition whose government collapsed last year, prompting an election six months early. In the campaign, he expressed concern about the increasing number of people migrating to Western Europe via Slovakia.
Figo’s comments reflect traditional warm feelings toward Russia among many Slovaks, who have gained strength on social media since the start of the Ukraine war.
He has pledged to freeze military supplies to Ukraine and push for peace talks — a line close to Hungarian President Viktor Orbán’s but rejected by Ukraine and its allies, who say it will only embolden Russia.
The far-right Republika party, considered a potential ally for Fico but unacceptable to others, may not win any seats, partial results and media projections show.
Reuters contributed to this report