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Pro-Russia party wins Slovakia’s parliamentary elections

A populist former prime minister and his left-wing party have won early parliamentary elections in Slovakia, staging a political comeback after campaigning on a pro-Russian and anti-American message, according to results announced Sunday.

Former PM's party has pledged to pull military aid for Ukraine

A man speaks at a podium with two other men in the background.

A populist former prime minister and his left-wing party have won early parliamentary elections in Slovakia, staging a political comeback after campaigning on a pro-Russian and anti-American message, according to results announced Sunday.

Former prime minister Robert Fico and his party Smer took nearly 23 per cent of the votes, or 42 seats in the 150-seat parliament, the Slovak Statistics Office said.

Although it's not a majority, the result earned the president's nod to start talks to replace a technocrat government that has been backing Kyiv against Russia's invasion.

A coalition government will need to be formed. The president traditionally asks an election's winner to try to form a government, so Fico is likely to become prime minister again. He served as prime minister in 2006-2010 and again in 2012-2018.

Fico, 59, said he was ready to open talks with other parties on forming a coalition government as soon as President Zuzana Caputova asks him. Caputova said she will do it on Monday.

Saturday's election was a test for the small eastern European country's support for neighbouring Ukraine in its war with Russia, and the win by Fico could strain a fragile unity in the European Union and NATO.

"We are not changing that we are prepared to help Ukraine in a humanitarian way," said Fico, who, according to analysts, is inspired by Hungary's nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who has frequently clashed with the EU.

'You know our opinion on arming Ukraine'

"We are prepared to help with the reconstruction of the state but you know our opinion on arming Ukraine," Fico said at a news conference Sunday. His campaign call of "Not a single round" for Ukraine resonated in the nation of 5.5 million.

Fico has vowed to withdraw Slovakia's military support for Ukraine in Russia's war if his attempt to return to power succeeds. "People in Slovakia have bigger problems than Ukraine," he said.

The country created in 1993 following the breakup of Czechoslovakia has been a staunch supporter of Ukraine since Russia invaded last February, donating arms and opening the borders for refugees fleeing the war.

Weapons sent under previous government

Slovakia has delivered to Ukraine its fleet of Soviet-era MiG-29 fighter jets, the S-300 air defence system, helicopters, armoured vehicles and much-needed de-mining equipment.

The current caretaker government is planning to send Ukraine artillery ammunition and to train Ukrainian service members in de-mining.

Winning approval for sending more arms to Ukraine is getting more difficult in many countries. In the U.S. Congress, a bill to avert a government shutdown in Washington, D.C., excluded President Joe Biden's request to provide more security assistance to the war-torn nation.

In other countries, including Germany, France, and Spain, populist parties skeptical of intervention in Ukraine also command significant support. Many of these countries have national or regional elections coming up that could tip the balance of popular opinion away from Kyiv and toward Moscow.

Pro-West party in 2nd place

A liberal, pro-West newcomer, the Progressive Slovakia party, took second place, with 18 per cent of the votes, or 32 seats.

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 said. "And it would be even worse if Robert Fico manages to create a government."

He said he'd like to try to form a governing coalition if Fico fails.

Political party members gather around their leader as he speaks at a podium.

The left-wing Hlas (Voice) party, led by Fico's former deputy in Smer, Peter Pellegrini, came in third with 14.7 per cent (27 seats). Pellegrini parted ways with Fico after the scandal-tainted Smer lost the previous election in 2020, but their possible reunion would boost Fico's chances to form a government.

Pellegrini replaced Fico as prime minister after he was forced to resign following major anti-government street protests resulting from the 2018 killing of journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancée.

Another potential coalition partner, the ultranationalist Slovak National Party, a clear pro-Russian group, received 5.6 per cent (10 seats).

Those three parties would have a parliamentary majority of 79 seats if they joined forces in a coalition government.

Fico against Ukraine joining NATO

Fico opposes EU sanctions on Russia, questions whether Ukraine can force out the invading Russian troops and wants to block Ukraine from joining NATO. He proposes that instead of sending arms to Kyiv, the EU and the U.S. should use their influence to force Russia and Ukraine to strike a compromise peace deal.

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

"It can't be ruled out that he will be looking for a partner who uses similar rhetoric, and the partner will be Viktor Orban," said Radoslav Stefancik, an analyst from the University of Economics in Bratislava.

Orban welcomed Fico's victory.

"Always good to work together with a patriot," he posted on X, formerly called Twitter.

Hungary has — uniquely among EU countries — maintained close relations with Moscow and argued against supplying arms to Ukraine or providing it with economic assistance.

With files from Reuters

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Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca

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