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In parliamentary election in Slovakia, the former prime minister Robert Fico’s left-wing populist Smer (Direction) party secured 23% votes, defeating pro-EU Liberal Progressive Slovakia Party (18% votes). The three-time former PM won the election on a pro-Kremlin & anti-US stance, vowing to halt military aid to Ukraine.

Fico campaigned on a rhetoric that would shift Slovakia, an EU & NATO member, closer to Hungary in challenging the bloc’s consensual support of Ukraine against Russia. Slovakia supported Ukraine after the Russian invasion – it has provided fighter jets & S-300 air defense system to Kviy. His victory has raised concerns about Slovakia’s support for Ukraine and its future in the Euro-Atlantic. 

Fico has two weeks to form a government. He will likely return as the country’s leader – five years after stepping down amid outrage over the murder of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak. Smer could form a coalition government with right-wing Slovak National Party & Hlas (Voice), which secured 15% votes, and secure a slim majority in the parliament. Hlas, which emerged from Smer during the political upheaval of 2018, appears to be the Kingmaker. Its leader, former PM Peter Pellegrini, dislikes his former protégé Fico, but the parties are aligned politically. If Pellegrini joins the government, he could ask Smer to tone down anti-Ukrainian rhetoric. 

Fico’s critics say Slovakia under his government could adopt Hungary’s anti-EU & anti-NATO stance. Could Bratislava team up with Hungary in blocking more EU money for Ukraine and for the arms, and imposing more EU sanctions on Russia? The bloc already faces dwindling enthusiasm for continued economic & weapons support to Ukraine. Smer may also align with Hungary on social issues such as migration & LGBT. 

Fico says his party will focus on negotiations to find peace between Ukraine & Russia. Ukraine said it respects the choice of the Slovak people. Russia said it will watch developments in Slovakia after Fico’s win. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said it is ‘absurd’ to label FICO ‘pro-Russian’.

Some observers feel Fico will try to walk a fine balance as he has done in his earlier tenures. He was seen to be relatively pro-Western in Brussels (agreed on the first EU sanctions on Russia after annexation of Crimea in 2014, but he spread a different message in Bratislava). And as the budget deficit keep swelling and energy prices & inflation remain stubbornly high, Slovakia needs the EU desperately. 

Election results in Slovakia come amid a deal in the US that narrowly averted government shutdown but cut funding for Kviy and a Polish election campaign in which the ruling Law and Justice party, until recently one of the staunchest supporters of Ukraine, has toyed with various measures including questioning more arms deliveries and blocking agro-products from its neighbour to court right wing voters.

In many ways, this weekend’s parliamentary election results in Slovakia were the first true political embodiment of Ukraine fatigue, writes Rikard Jozwiak in rferl.org The West’s promise of being by Ukraine’s side “as long as it takes” suddenly feels questionable, concludes Jozwiak.

Disclaimer: The article has reference to open sources including Al Jazeera, Reuters & rferl
Image: Visegrad Insight

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