(CN) — Robert Fico, a pro-Russian, left-leaning nationalist politician and former prime minister, convincingly won Slovakia's parliamentary elections over the weekend after campaigning to end military support for Ukraine.
Fico's Direction-Social Democracy party picked up nearly 23% of Saturday's vote, putting it in pole position to lead a new coalition government in Slovakia, a NATO member that shares a border with Ukraine.
His win was seen as a big blow to the European Union and NATO because he has promised to stop shipping weapons to Ukraine; rejects imposing more sanctions on Russia; and shares the Kremlin's views that blame Ukrainian far-right nationalists, American meddling and Western anti-Russian sentiment as root causes for the conflict in Ukraine.
The election was a remarkable comeback for a politician who was ousted from the premiership in 2018 by widespread protests over the killing of Ján Kuciak, a Slovak journalist investigating government corruption, and his fiancée. Fico and his government were accused of systemic corruption and having ties to those accused in the killing of Kuciak.
Fico's party, known by the initials SMER-SD, got most of its support from older, rural and working-class slices of the electorate. These voters are reeling from soaring inflation and are increasingly upset with the escalating war in Ukraine. Surveys show support for NATO has dropped in Slovakia since the war started. Slovaks have long held a more favorable view of Russia than found in many other Central and Eastern European nations.
Fico echoes those sentiments and once told an interviewer: “The Soviets freed us from the Nazis, we should show some respect. We must tell the whole world that freedom comes from the East, war always comes from the West.”
Following his win, Fico maintained his pro-Russian stance and said in a television interview that Europe “needs to get off the American train.”
The liberal pro-Western Progressive Slovakia came in second with nearly 18% of the ballot, drawing most of its support from younger urban professionals.
This pro-Ukraine party was seen as the best hope to keep Fico out of government, but its options for forming a coalition appeared limited because the third strongest party, Voice-Social Democracy, splintered off from SMER-SD and remains ideologically close to Fico. Voice-Social Democracy got 14.7% of the vote.
Fico is expected to negotiate forming a coalition with Voice-Social Democracy and the far-right Slovak National Party, which got just over 5% of the vote.
Slovakia held snap elections after a center-right government led by the Ordinary People and Independent Personalities party, or OL’aNO, fell apart amid infighting and crises. The OL’aNO government was a staunch supporter of Ukraine and promised to root out corruption, but it lost popular support. OL’aNO got just under 9% of the vote.
The prospect of Fico returning as prime minister for a third time was met with deep unease among pro-EU policymakers, who warned Slovakia's democratic institutions would come under attack, as has happened in Hungary and Poland, where right-wing nationalist governments are in power.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban was quick to congratulate Fico and pundits predicted the two leaders will form a pro-Russian alliance within the EU. Orban is in favor of lifting sanctions on Russia and called for a cease-fire and a peace deal in the Ukraine war, even if that means giving Russia territorial gains.
“Guess who's back! Congratulations to Robert Fico,” Orban wrote on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. “Always good to work together with a patriot. Looking forward to it!”
On domestic issues, Fico may push for a bigger state role in the economy, pension increases and mortgage payment subsidies even though Slovakia is struggling with high public debt. He has also called for tax increases on “excessive profits” made by industries.
As a social conservative, he's also vowed to stop immigration into Slovakia and taken anti-gay positions.
Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.Follow @cainburdeau
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