Slovakia’s populist election winner Robert Fico got a two-week window to negotiate a coalition government on Monday, after steering his party to an election victory over the weekend with promises to stop military aid to Ukraine.
Mr Fico campaigned on rhetoric that would shift Slovakia, a European Union and Nato member state, closer to Hungary in challenging the consensual support of Ukraine against Russia.
But Mr Fico, a three-time prime minister, will need other parties to form a coalition, which might prevent any sharp policy turn and means clinching a government is not yet guaranteed.
Mr Fico met President Zuzana Caputova briefly on Monday to get the go-ahead to have a first try at forming a government.
“We agreed on a two-week deadline which I will have at my disposal to form a government,” Mr Fico told reporters after the meeting. “It will not be an easy process but we will do all we can.”
Ms Caputova, a liberal who has a tense relationship with Mr Fico, said she would also speak to other party leaders, suggesting she may try to take a role in the process.
The pro-Russian Mr Fico and his Smer-Social Democracy party won nearly 23 per cent of the vote, ahead of liberal challenger Progressive Slovakia (PS), with 18 per cent.
Mr Fico is expected to turn to HLAS (Voice), a more pro-European party which split off from Smer in 2020, and most likely the pro-Russian Slovak National Party (SNS), which won 5.6 per cent of the vote. But some analysts say SNS may have trouble keeping its lawmakers united, destabilising any coalition.
HLAS, led by Mr Fico’s former colleague and prime minister Peter Pellegrini, would exert a moderating influence in a Smer-led government and holds a kingmaker position after winning the third most seats in parliament.
It could try to force Smer to negotiate a coalition with the Christian Democrats instead of the nationalists, or even swing its support to a potential PS-led coalition if negotiations with Smer fail.
Mr Pellegrini said on Sunday that with HLAS in a ruling coalition, voters did not need to worry about a significant change in Slovakia’s foreign policy.
Though he turned increasingly anti-Western in opposition, analysts say Mr Fico can be pragmatic, as shown when as premier he led Slovakia into the euro zone and avoided major political clashes.
A large policy U-turn or a collapse of support for Ukraine in central Europe is unlikely, analysts say.
Mr Fico has said he would stop military supplies to Ukraine, which has a small border with Slovakia to the west, and that sending more weapons would prolonged the war started by Russia’s February 2022 invasion.
He backed humanitarian and reconstruction aid for Ukraine, and wants peace talks – a line similar to that of Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán but rejected by Ukraine and its Western allies, who say this would only encourage Russia.
In his campaign, Mr Fico also called for tougher action against illegal migration and reining in a surge in living costs. He said on Sunday Slovaks had bigger problems than Ukraine. – Reuters