Pro-Russian former Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico on Sunday registered a victory in the country's parliamentary elections, riding on a pro-Kremlin and anti-American campaign to mark his political comeback.
Fico and his leftist party Smer party, also known as Direction, led the polls with 22.9% of the votes, according to Slovakia's Statistic Office on early Sunday after 99.98% of votes were counted from around 6,000 polling stations.
Fico's win is expected to strain a fragile unity in the European Union and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) concerning the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war. The 59-year-old has warned to withdraw Slovakia’s military support for Ukraine if he is elected to power.
However, no party won the majority of seats, thus necessitating a coalition government for Slovakia. Fico is likely to become the PM for the third time as the President asks an election winner to try to form a government. Fico previously served as Slovakian PM from 2006 to 2010 and again from 2012 to 2018.
Pro-West newcomer, the Progressive Slovakia party, came second in the elections with 18% of the votes. The party's leader Michal Simecka said that they respected the result. "But it’s bad news for Slovakia. And it would be even worse if Robert Fico manages to create a government," he added.
Slovakia, a country of 5.5 million people created after the breakup of Czechoslovakia in 1993 following the collapse of the Soviet Union has been a staunch supporter of Ukraine since the Russian invasion in February last year. It has donated arms to Kyiv and opened borders for refugees.
Will Fico become the new PM?
Although Fico's populist party won the elections, he now needs the support of coalition partners as no party won a majority of the seats. The moderate-left party Hlas, which came third with 14.7% votes, could become the kingmaker, CNN reported.
In addition, seven political parties reached the 5% threshold needed to enter the parliament, making the coalition negotiations potentially long and messy. Simecka has volunteered for the post of PM if Fico fails to garner support.
Slovakia’s President Zuzana Čaputová has already said before the polls that she would ask the leader of the strongest party to form the government, meaning Fico will get the first stab at forming a government.
Fico's stance on Russia and Ukraine
Slovakia, as part of the European Union and NATO, has supported Ukraine for long by calling for sanctions against Russia. However, things are expected to dramatically change if Fico, who has blamed "Ukraine fascists and Nazis" for provoking Russian President Vladimir Putin for the invasion, returns to power.
Fico has continuously opposed EU sanctions on Russia, questions whether Ukraine can force out the invading Russian troops and wants to block Ukraine from joining NATO. He also suggested that the EU and the United States should force a compromise peace deal between the warring countries.
Western experts are worried that Fico will follow on the steps of Hungary PM Victor Orban, in establishing close ties with Russia and oppose the EU. Orban has also argued against supplying arms or economic aid to Ukraine.
There is speculation that Fico, if he becomes PM, could cooperate with Orban to create hurdles for the European bloc. If Poland’s governing Law and Justice party manages to win in Polish parliamentary elections next month, this resistance is likely to become even stronger.
Fico was forced to resign in March 2018 after mass protests over the murder of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak, who reported on corruption within his party, and his fiancée, Martina Kušnírová. Fico is also known for his campaign against immigration and LGBTQ+ rights.
(with inputs from AP)