Populist Robert Fico appears likely to lead Slovakia’s government for the fourth time after his Smer party won weekend parliamentary elections that have been nervously watched in European capitals. Fico’s strong anti-Ukraine stance, insisting on ending arms supplies, and his opposition to European migration policy place him firmly outside the EU mainstream, and positions him as a strong ally of Hungary’s Viktor Orban. Moscow will be delighted.
Smer and Fico, which won 23 per cent of the popular vote, will have trouble putting together a majority, not least because the far-right Republika party failed to achieve representation by not reaching the necessary 5 per cent threshold. A possible alliance with third-placed Hlas, led by former prime minister Peter Pellegrini , an ally who had fallen out with Fico, and a small ultra-nationalist party may just suffice.
The result is a stunning political revival for a populist who was forced to resign as prime minister in 2020 after Smer lost power following mass demonstrations against corruption and the murder of an investigative journalist probing high-level graft. Fico was later charged with criminal conspiracy in 2022 to use police and tax information on political foes, charges he denied and which were later dropped.
In power in the past Fico proved somewhat more pragmatic and sympathetic to fellow EU leaders than his election rhetoric suggests. He will certainly have to be mindful of the need to maintain support for badly needed EU funding to the country’s indebted economy. His campaign slogan “Not a single round” for Ukraine came after Slovakia, previously a staunch supporter of Ukraine, had already supplied most of the arms it can spare to Kiev. But its potential veto on additional future EU Russia sanctions, and within Nato on Ukrainian membership, remain serious concerns to western allies.
The election is testimony to the continuing robustness of support in member-states for populist and far-right parties, a warning ahead of next year’s European elections.