Former Pro-Russia Slovakian Prime Minister’s populist party wins election

Robert Fico

1st October 2023 – (Bratislava) In a closely watched election, Robert Fico’s populist SMER-SSD party has emerged victorious, securing a mandate to govern Slovakia once again. With almost all votes counted, Fico’s party garnered 23.3% of the vote, surpassing the centrist Progressive Slovakia, which secured 17%. This outcome defied initial expectations, as two exit polls had predicted a narrow victory for Progressive Slovakia.

Fico, known for his populist rhetoric and nationalist tendencies, leads a party that has vowed to halt military aid to Ukraine and has been openly critical of both the European Union (EU) and NATO. This raises concerns about Slovakia’s future foreign policy orientation and its commitment to supporting Ukraine in its conflict with Russia.

If Fico succeeds in forming a majority coalition, this will mark his fourth time leading the European nation. His astute understanding of public sentiment and mastery of political manoeuvring have solidified his position as a dominant figure in Slovakian politics. Michal Vasecka, a sociologist from the Bratislava Policy Institute, described Fico as a skilled “technician of power” who closely follows opinion polls and societal trends.

The HLAS (Voice) party, securing 15.03% of the vote, finds itself in a crucial position as a potential kingmaker for the formation of the next government. With an estimated 27 seats in the 150-member parliament, HLAS could play a decisive role in determining Slovakia’s political trajectory. While party leader Peter Pellegrini expressed no specific preference for aligning with either of the larger parties, he hinted at a closer alignment with Fico’s Smer-SD party.

However, Progressive Slovakia’s leader, Michal Simecka, has not abandoned hope of forming the next government and remains committed to a stable, pro-European administration. As the final votes were tallied, Simecka emphasised the importance of Slovakia having a government that upholds European values and prioritises the rule of law.

The parliamentary elections in Slovakia have revealed deep divisions on foreign policy, particularly regarding the country’s stance on Ukraine. Fico, during his campaign, pledged to continue supporting Ukraine but refrained from providing arms or ammunition—a position that has drawn criticism from opponents who accuse him of being pro-Russian. In contrast, a Progressive Slovakia government would maintain Slovakia’s current support for Kyiv.

Fico’s success in the election can be attributed, in part, to capitalising on the prevailing public sentiment of discontent fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. Sociologist Michal Vasecka believes that Fico tapped into the anger and anxiety prevalent in Slovakia over the past three years, leveraging it to his advantage.

Slovakia faces significant challenges, including the eurozone’s highest inflation rate at 10% and a financially strained healthcare system. Dissatisfaction with the previous center-right coalition, which led to the government’s collapse and triggered early elections, has further contributed to Fico’s support base.