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Robert Fico wins Slovakia election with anti-Ukraine stance

Anti-Ukraine former prime minister Robert Fico won the largest share of votes in Slovakia’s elections, putting himself on track to try to form a coalition government that could undermine western unity in helping Kyiv in its war against Russia.

Fico and his Smer party were on almost 23 per cent, ahead of Michal Šimečka and his liberal Progressive Slovakia party on almost 18 per cent, according to preliminary results on Sunday, with 99 per cent of the votes counted. Šimečka’s party had topped exit polls on late Saturday.

Fico said on Sunday that he would open talks with other parties on forming a coalition. “We’re here, we’re ready, we’ve learned something, we’re more experienced,” he said.

“People in Slovakia have bigger problems than Ukraine,” he added.

While Fico may struggle to form a stable coalition, his victory will raise alarm bells in Washington and Brussels because it could bring another anti-Ukraine voice into the EU alongside Hungary’s prime minister Viktor Orbán.

Fico has opposed sanctions against Russia and also claimed that Nato-led support for Ukraine undermines national sovereignty.

Orbán wrote on X, formerly Twitter, on Sunday: “Guess who’s back! Congratulations to Robert Fico on his undisputable victory at the Slovak parliamentary elections. Always good to work together with a patriot.”

Slovak analyst Milan Nič, of the German Council on Foreign Relations, said: “The task for the west now is not to lose Slovakia and engage constructively with Fico, but I think that Moscow is celebrating what will be seen as cracks in Europe’s east and Hungary no longer being alone.”

The outcome of the snap election marks a stunning political revival for populist Fico, who remains entangled in several corruption cases and last year survived an attempt by opponents to lift his parliamentary immunity.

He was forced to resign as prime minister in 2018 amid mass street protests sparked by the murder of a journalist who investigated corruption and of his fiancée.

Fico now needs to find enough allies among Slovakia’s fragmented political parties to avoid another hung parliament. Since May the country has had a technocratic government, appointed by President Zuzana Čaputová after the previous coalition imploded.

A potential kingmaker in forming a new government is the Hlas party of another former prime minister, Peter Pellegrini, which came third with 14.7 per cent of the votes. Pellegrini replaced Fico in office before he fell out with his former mentor and left Smer to form Hlas.

“There seems to be a path for Fico to have a working coalition” if he joined forces with a smaller ultranationalist party and mended his relationship with Pellegrini, Nič said. The three parties together would have 79 of 150 seats in parliament.

Fico could offer Pellegrini a chance to run for the Slovak presidency next year with Smer’s backing, Nič said. The race was thrown open after the popular Čaputová said in June she would not seek re-election.

Pavol Demeš, a former Slovak foreign minister, said: “Fico will not be as strong as Orbán, but the EU has already been struggling to keep unity on Ukraine and I’m sure international policymakers will be worried about how far Fico can go in terms of fulfilling all the rhetoric from his campaign.”

Šimečka, 39, had called for stronger EU unity to help Ukraine and warned against bringing smaller Slovakia closer to Hungary’s pro-Russia orbit.

On Sunday Fico said his stance was to continue helping Ukraine “in a humanitarian way” and eventually take part in its postwar reconstruction, but not to provide more military aid for now.

Šimečka said on Sunday that the result was “bad news for the country” and would be “even worse” if he and others failed to stop Fico from returning to office.

Michal Šimečka and members of his party during a news conference
Michal Šimečka, centre, and his Progressive Slovakia party had topped exit polls after Saturday’s vote © Vladimir Simicek/AFP/Getty Images

Pellegrini, who was ambivalent on Ukraine during the campaign, welcomed his party’s result and said he would “make the right decision” about how to act as kingmaker.

While Fico and his nominally centre-left Smer party were the frontrunners for most of the election campaign, Šimečka appeared to stage a late surge, something that exit polls had appeared to confirm.

“Younger and more modern progressive Slovaks will have a crazy hangover now” after starting their celebrations in Bratislava on late Saturday when exit polls were announced, said Demeš.

Nič said the failure of exit pollsters to call the result showed that “Smer voters did not talk to them after voting because they see them as part of the political mainstream”.

Fico won by “spreading fear”, wrote Beata Balogová, the editor of newspaper SME, in an article published on Sunday. “He made enough people believe that liberalism and human rights can be a bigger threat to citizens than widespread corruption and sentiment for [Russian president Vladimir] Putin’s regime.”

Four of the 11 main parties in the election failed to clear the 5 per cent threshold to enter parliament, including the far-right Republika party, which scored 4.75 per cent and had been expected to help Fico after the vote. But the Slovak National (SNS) party, which shares Fico’s anti-migration message, secured 5.6 per cent.

Fico confirmed on Sunday that he would immediately reintroduce border controls with Hungary if he forms a new government, amid a revived debate about illegal migration across central Europe.

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