Former Slovak prime minister Robert Fico arrives to his party's headquarters after polling stations closed for an early parliamentary election, in Bratislava, Sept 30, 2023. (PHOTO / AP)
Slovakia's former prime minister Robert Fico beat his rival in a parliamentary election, but he will need to win over allies to form the next government, nearly complete results showed on Sunday.
With 98 percent of voting districts reporting in the Saturday election, Fico's SMER-SSD party led with 23.37 percent of the vote. The liberal Progressive Slovakia (PS) followed with 16.86 percent and the HLAS (Voice) party, which could become the kingmaker for forming the next government, was third with 15.03 percent.
Exit polls had favored PS, but the results went Fico's way, opening the prospect he may win a fourth stint as premier after leading governments in 2006-2010 and 2012-2018
Former Fico colleague and leftist HLAS leader Peter Pellegrini kept his options open on future coalitions.
Fico's party is more nationalist and socially conservative, criticizing social liberalism, which it says is imposed form Brussels. The PS is liberal on green policies, LGBT rights, deeper European integration and human rights.
"We do want to evaluate everything, so we will wait for the final count," said Robert Kalinak, a SMER-SSD candidate and long-time Fico ally, adding the party would comment on the full results later on Sunday.
Exit polls had favored PS, but the results went Fico's way, opening the prospect he may win a fourth stint as premier after leading governments in 2006-2010 and 2012-2018.
The first party across the line was expected to get a mandate from President Zuzana Caputova to lead talks on forming a parliamentary majority and, if successful, a government.
Fico may align with HLAS, which split away from SMER-SSD in 2020, and the nationalist Slovak National Party that won 5.68 percent.
"The distribution of seats confirms HLAS as a party without which any normally functioning government coalition cannot be put together," Pellegrini said as most results were known. "If you ask me if we prefer any combination or coalition, I want to say not at all."
The incoming government in the nation of 5.5 million will take over a ballooning budget deficit forecast to be the highest in the euro zone.
Fico has ridden on dissatisfaction with a bickering center-right coalition, whose government collapsed last year, triggering the election six months early. In campaigning, he stressed concern about a rise in the number of migrants passing through Slovakia to Western Europe.
The far-right Republika party, which was seen as a possible ally for Fico but unacceptable to others, failed to win any seats.
Fico was forced to resign in 2018 after mass protests against graft that followed the murder of an investigative journalist.
Pellegrini, a SMER-SSD member at the time, took over for him and led the government until 2020, when center-right parties pledging to weed out graft swept an election. But their government collapsed last year after internal bickering, opening the way to Saturday's early election.
A total of 24 political parties and one coalition contested the early election. This is the ninth election in the history of independent Slovakia, with more than 4.3 million eligible voters.
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