Populist, pro-Russian former prime minister leads left-wing party to victory in Slovakia’s parliamentary vote

Saturday’s election was a test of the small Eastern European country’s support for neighboring Ukraine in its war with Russia, and a victory for Fico could shatter fragile unity in the EU and NATO.

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A populist former prime minister and his left-wing party won parliamentary elections in Slovakia by near-total results, staging a political comeback after campaigning on a pro-Russian and anti-American message.

Former Prime Minister Robert Figo and the leftist Smar, or Direction, party led with 23.3% of the vote, with 99.2% of the results counted by the Slovak Statistics Office early Sunday.

Saturday’s election was a test of the small Eastern European country’s support for neighboring Ukraine in its war with Russia, and a victory for Fico could shatter fragile unity in the EU and NATO.

Figo, 59, has promised to withdraw Slovakia’s military support for Ukraine in Russia’s war if his bid to return to power succeeds.

The country of 5.5 million people, created in 1993 following the breakup of Czechoslovakia, has been a staunch supporter of Ukraine since Russia invaded last February, donating weapons and opening borders to refugees fleeing the war.

When no party gets a majority, a coalition government must be formed. The president traditionally asks the winner of the election to try to form a government, so Fico is likely to return as prime minister. He served as Prime Minister from 2006-2010 and again from 2012-2018.

A liberal, pro-Western newcomer, the Progressive Slovakia Party, came in second with 17% of the vote.

The left-wing Hlas (Voice) party, led by Fico’s former deputy in Smer, Peter Pellegrini, was third with 15%. Pellegrini split with Figo after Smar lost the previous election in 2020, but their reunion would boost Figo’s chances of forming a government.

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

If the three parties form a coalition government, they will have a majority in Parliament.

Fico opposes EU sanctions on Russia, questions whether Ukraine can expel invading Russian troops and wants to block Ukraine from joining NATO.

Instead of sending arms to Kyiv, he proposes that the EU and the US use their influence to force Russia and Ukraine into a compromise peace deal.

Fico’s critics worry that his return to power could lead Slovakia to reverse course in other ways, following the path of Hungary under Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and, to a lesser extent, Poland under the Law and Justice Party.

Hungary has been sanctioned by the EU for violations of EU rules and corruption, while Poland is on a slippery slope away from EU legal principles, EU institutions say. Fico has threatened to fire investigators from the National Crime Agency, which deals with the most serious crimes and corruption, and the special prosecutor.

Hungary – uniquely among EU countries – has maintained close ties with Moscow and has argued against supplying Ukraine with arms or economic aid.

Figo repeats Russian President Vladimir Putin’s unsupported claim that the Ukrainian government is running a Nazi state. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is Jewish and lost relatives in the Holocaust.

Fico, known for his abusive rants against journalists, also campaigned against immigration and LGBTQ+ rights.

The populist Common People’s Group, the conservative Christian Democrats and the pro-business Freedom and Unity won seats in parliament.

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