- Premier Fico loses majority, winning just 28.3 percent
- Two nationalist parties enter potentially hung parliament
Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico won a parliamentary vote with a weaker-than-expected outcome, as an anti-refugee message helped two nationalist groups gain seats with six other parties in a result that could trigger repeat elections.
Fico’s Smer party, which pledged to raise living standards and protect the country against Europe’s migrant crisis, lost the outright majority with which it’s ruled since 2012. It took 28.3 percent, or 49 of parliament’s 150 seats, according to results based on 99 percent of districts counted on Sunday. That was well below the 44 percent he won in a 2012 ballot. The pro-business SaS party was second, while two nationalist parties won a fifth of the assembly’s mandates, the results showed.
With three parties refusing to rule with Fico, he’ll struggle to create a coalition that controls a majority. Hopes among a group of center-right parties for a repeat of 2010, when Fico won elections but was outmaneuvered by smaller parties that took power, looked futile, as the five such groups together controlled only 72 seats.
“Chances for early elections are high,” Otilia Dhand, an analyst at Teneo Intelligence in Brussels, said by phone on Sunday. “It would be very difficult for Smer to assemble a coalition.”
At the center of the election campaign were doubts over the future of the European Union. The country of 5.4 million has been struggling to weigh the benefits of its 2009 euro adoption against obligations such as sheltering migrants and helping Greece. Fico has joined neighbors Poland and Hungary in denouncing an EU plan to redistribute refugees in the bloc. That, along with the U.K.’s potential “Brexit” and Greece’s economic woes, will dominate Slovakia’s stint at the EU’s rotating presidency, which begins in July.
The biggest surprises in the elections were the collapse of the opposition Siet party, which was running second behind Smer in pre-election opinion polls but plunged to eighth place, winning only 5.6 percent. The Slovak Nationalist Party, which ruled with Fico from 2006 to 2010, came in fourth with 8.6 percent, or 15 parliamentary seats. The radical People’s Party led by Marian Kotleba, who has been indicted for inciting racial hatred, was close behind with 14 mandates. While the charges have been dropped against Kotleba, all political parties except for Smer have refused to consider him as a ruling partner.
Any coalition hinges on whether Most-Hid party, mainly representing Slovakia’s ethnic-Hungarian minority, could enter a coalition with the nationalist Slovak National Party, said Richard Sulik, the leader of SaS. Sulik, who ruled out cooperation with Fico, said Sunday he could imagine a six-way coalition possible if the former foes can overlook their differences. However, Most-Hid leader Bela Bugar ruled out such cooperation, saying his party can’t work with the Nationalists and early elections can’t be ruled out.
Bickering between party leaders in a televised debate Sunday exposed the potential instability of a center-right coalition, prompting Sulik to appeal to his colleagues to move past old disputes. We Are Family leader Boris Kollar, who last November called Europe’s migrant crisis “an invasion,” said his party would back a cabinet without Smer. But it won’t be a part of it, he said, citing “backstabbing” by other party leaders.
Fico vowed to push on with a new ruling coalition in a process that may take weeks of political wrangling among parties. Traditionally, president gives the election winner the first chance to set up a government.
“There’s a winning party, and its sole responsibility is to attempt to try to form a government,” Fico, 51, said on TA3 television on Sunday. “What would early elections solve in such a short time?”
Despite having presided over booming growth, which accelerated to 4.2 percent in the fourth quarter from a year earlier, Fico’s support fell during his four years in power. His message of keeping immigrants out of Slovakia also collided with public discontent over underfunded services, which included strikes by teachers and health-care workers.
Smer’s laser-like focus on migrants backfired, according to Dhand, as it boosted support for the more radical groups that took up the anti-refugee cause. Kotleba, a former high-school teacher, has praised Jozef Tiso, president of the Slovak fascist satellite state during World War II, a regime that sent tens of thousands of Jews to Nazi concentration camps.
The center-right SaS, Olano-Nova and We Are Family parties all said they’ll refuse to work with Fico in government. If they stick to their vows, lacking a majority of their own, it would mean either Fico won’t win a third term as prime minister, or any government he is in would include both Smer and the Nationalists. Most of the other parties have refused to rule with the People’s Party.
“The immigration theme has backfired for Fico and helped more radical parties,” Dhand said. “To a large extent, it was an anti-establishment vote by first-time voters.”