Slovakia is heading to an early parliamentary election on Saturday, September 30, 2023, with a populist former prime minister Robert Fico and his scandal-tainted party Smer (Direction) favored to win after campaigning on a clear pro-Russia and anti-American message.
Fico, who served two prior periods as prime minister, from 2006 to 2010 and 2012 to 2018, has vowed to end all military assistance to Ukraine, which has been at war with Russia since 2014. He has also blamed “Ukrainian Nazis and fascists” for the start of the conflict, accused Slovakia’s president of being a U.S. agent, and described the EU as a “war machine under the influence of the USA”.
Fico’s return to power could further fracture the European Union’s support for Ukraine, which has already faced some discontent among its allies over its slow reforms and corruption scandals. Fico has also expressed admiration for Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who has clashed with the EU over democratic values and migration policies.
However, Fico’s victory is not assured, as he faces a strong challenge from a liberal pro-West newcomer, Progressive Slovakia, led by Michal Truban. The party has campaigned on a platform of fighting corruption, improving public services, and strengthening Slovakia’s ties with the EU and NATO.
According to the latest polls, Smer and Progressive Slovakia are neck and neck, with around 18% of the vote each. Neither party is expected to win a majority in the 150-seat parliament, meaning that coalition talks will be inevitable. The outcome of the election could depend on the performance of smaller parties, such as Hlas (Voice), led by former prime minister Peter Pellegrini; OLANO (Ordinary People), led by former prime minister Igor Matovic; Republika (Republic), led by far-right politician Milan Uhrik; and Kotlebovci (People’s Party Our Slovakia), led by neo-Nazi Marian Kotleba.
The election was triggered by a political crisis that erupted in March 2023, when Matovic resigned as prime minister amid a dispute over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and a secret deal to buy Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine. Pellegrini then formed a new government with the support of Smer and OLANO, but it collapsed in August after losing a confidence vote in parliament.
Slovakia, a landlocked country of 5.4 million people, joined the EU and NATO in 2004. It adopted the euro as its currency in 2009. It has been one of the fastest-growing economies in the EU, but it also suffers from high inequality, low trust in institutions, and widespread corruption.