Slovakia faces a crucial choice in its early parliamentary election on Saturday, September 30, 2023. The vote could determine the country’s future orientation towards the West or Russia, as well as its stance on the ongoing war in Ukraine.
The populist former Prime Minister Robert Fico and his leftist Smer-SSD party are leading the polls with about 21% of the vote.
Fico has campaigned on a clear pro-Russia and anti-American message, opposing EU sanctions on Russia, questioning whether Ukraine can force out the invading Russian troops and blocking Ukraine from joining NATO. He has also expressed admiration for Hungary’s authoritarian leader Viktor Orbán and promised to reverse Slovakia’s military support for neighboring Ukraine.
Fico’s main challenger is the relatively new liberal pro-West Progressive Slovakia (PS) party, which has about 16% of the vote. The PS is led by Michal Simecka, a former diplomat and academic who advocates for strong EU integration, democratic reform of Slovakia’s institutions and solidarity with Ukraine.
The election is expected to be close and neither party is likely to win an outright majority. This means that the formation of a coalition government will be crucial to determining the direction of Slovakia’s foreign policy. Analysts say that a victory for Fico could move the country closer to Russia, threatening to break a fragile unity in the EU and NATO and undermining the support for Ukraine. On the other hand, a victory for Simecka could strengthen Slovakia’s ties with the West and reaffirm its commitment to democracy and human rights.
The election was triggered by the collapse of the previous coalition government led by Igor Matovič of the populist Ordinary People party. The government lost a parliamentary no-confidence vote in December 2022 after losing the support of one of its partners, the pro-business Freedom and Solidarity party. The coalition had been plagued by internal disputes over various issues, including the response to the coronavirus pandemic and the soaring inflation caused by high energy prices amid Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. The coalition was also a staunch supporter of Ukraine, donating arms to the Ukrainian army and opening its border to refugees fleeing the war.