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Former PM Robert Fico wins Slovakian election and Viktor Orbán rejoices

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Slovakia – The early parliamentary elections held in Slovakia on Saturday, September 30 once again reshuffled the political deck in this Central European country.

In all likelihood, the social democrat Robert Fico, a former prime minister (both in 2006–2010 and 2012–2018), should be able to lead a coalition government with Peter Pellegrini’s Hlas-SD party (also social-democrat).

Often considered as a “populist”, this colourful figure of Slovakian politics was forced to resign in 2018 and was recently under prosecution for alleged criminal association.

Progresívne Slovensko and Hlas-SD establish themselves in the political landscape

According to the quasi-final results (based on 99.98% of votes cast), Robert Fico’s Social Democratic Party Smer-SD won 22.94% (+4.65%) and 42 seats (+4), well ahead of President Zuzana Čaputová’s liberal party Progresívne Slovensko (Progressive Slovakia), with 17.96% (+11.0%) and 32 seats (+32); the Social Democratic Party Hlas-SD (a split from Smer-SD), with 14.7% (+11.64%) and 27 seats (+27); Igor Matovič’s conservative centre-right party OľaNO (Ordinary People and Independent Personalities), with 8.89% (-21.9%) and 16 seats (-37); the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) with 6.82% (+2.17) and 12 seats (+12); Richard Sulík’s liberal party Sloboda a Solidarita (Freedom and Solidarity), with 6.32% (+0.10%) and 11 seats (-2); and the nationalists of the Slovak National Party (SNS), with 5.62% (+2.46%) and 10 seats (+10).

Collapse of Sme Rodina and ĽSNS

Also of note is the breakthrough of the nationalist Republika movement, which is a split from ĽSNS (Our Slovakia) that was founded in 2021, and which narrowly missed entering the National Council (parliament) with 4.75% of the vote; the underperformance of the liberal-conservative party Demokrati of former Prime Minister Eduard Heger (2021–2023), with just 2.93%; the collapse of outgoing Parliamentary Speaker Boris Kollár’s social-conservative “populist” Sme rodina (We are One Family) movement, with 2.21% (-6.03%); and the spectacular rout of the nationalist ĽSNS (Our Slovakia) party, with 0.84% (-7.16%). Meanwhile, the Hungarian Szövetség (Alliance) party, representing the large Hungarian minority in the south of the country, won 4.38% (+0.48%), but still won’t have a single deputy.

As regards the electoral map, Smer-SD came out on top in almost all the country’s districts, while Progresívne Slovensko (PS) won only in the Bratislava region and Košice, and the Hungarian Szövetség party dominated in Komárno (Komárom), Dunajská Streda (Dunaszerdahely), and Rimavská Sobota (Rimaszombat) with 48.78%, 46.37%, and 24.96% of the vote, respectively.

Towards a coalition with Fico and Pellegrini

The parties that formed the previous centre-right coalition have thus been literally swept away and President Zuzana Čaputová’s progressive party has been kept in check. The new Slovak government will most likely be formed by a coalition around the two former social-democrat prime ministers Robert Fico (Smer-SD) and Peter Pellegrini (Hlas-SD).

The prime minister of neighbouring Hungary, Viktor Orbán, was quick to congratulate Robert Fico in a tweet that did not go unnoticed: “Guess who’s back! Congratulations to Robert Fico on his indisputable victory at the Slovak parliamentary elections. Always good to work together with a patriot. Looking forward to it!”

The return of the Slovak “populist” strengthens the Budapest-Warsaw axis against Brussels

For Viktor Orbán, and to a lesser extent for the Polish Law and Justice (PiS) governing party, Robert Fico’s return to office in Slovakia marks a turning point in the ongoing tug-of-war with Brussels, as the Slovak populist is, despite his political colouring, a fierce anti-immigration sovereignist who has been overtly opposed to the EU’s double standards. He is also known for opposing the liberal left’s networks of influence head-on.

It should also be noted that Robert Fico has regained popularity through his opposition to the strict anti-Covid measures enforced by the short-lived pro-EU governments of Matovič and Heger.

What is less to the liking of Poland’s PiS is Robert Fico’s more neutral line on the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. Fico has repeatedly said Slovakia should stop supplying arms to Ukraine and he makes no secret of his hostility to NATO, being also highly critical of the United States’ influence in Europe. This makes him closer to Viktor Orbán’s stance, although Orbán is much more positive about NATO.

Robert Fico’s return, if he manages to form and maintain a government for long enough, will bring Slovakia back to the anti-Brussels club of EU countries that hold to the sovereignist line and advocate a Europe of nations, as opposed to the Eurofederalist project championed by Germany and France.