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All power to Fico?

Slovakia is voting on a new president – but also on its course between East and West. Because the Russia-friendly head of government Fico could also control the highest office in the state in the future.

Marianne Allweiss

Just a few days before the presidential election, thousands of Slovaks were again on the streets, and not just in the capital Bratislava. “Boo”, “Ugh”, “Mafia!” could be heard. This time people protested against the restructuring of public broadcasting.

“Robert Fico's government should calmly try to take control,” shouted liberal opposition leader Michal Simecka from the podium. “It will end like his judicial reform. He won't get away with everything because we won't give up. We won't become another Hungary – no Orbanistan!”

But there has been great concern about Hungary's anti-democratic path since the left-wing nationalist Robert Fico ruled Slovakia again – this time with pro-Russian rhetoric and with open attempts to restrict press freedom and rebuild the rule of law.

The favorite: A candidate from Fico's grace

So far, progressive President Zuzana Caputova has resisted. The Constitutional Court stopped parts of the judicial reform. Caputova will not run again. She says she lacks strength – after insults and slander, especially from Fico and his party friends, and after death threats. The favorite to succeed her is Fico's candidate, his coalition partner Peter Pellegrini.

“I will never allow Slovakia to be drawn into a war,” he said on Facebook. “That we send soldiers to Ukraine. That we lose our right to veto in the EU. The voters have known me for years: Slovakia will always be my top priority.”

“The country is on a crossroads”

Pellegrini hardly appeared in the election campaign. He is the President of Parliament and is omnipresent anyway. The 48-year-old used to be in Fico's party himself, but now he leads his own, more moderate left-wing force. After the parliamentary elections last fall, Pellegrini could have governed with pro-European parties, but he quickly decided on Fico and enabled the EU-critical long-term prime minister to make a comeback.

Depending on the outcome of the election, the Russia-friendly Prime Minister Fico could rule through, his critics fear.

Ivan Korcok fears that as president he could soon make it easier for Fico to govern. The long-time diplomat and former foreign minister is in second place in the polls, just behind Pellegrini. “The way I see it is that my country is on a crossroads,” he says. “It's about whether a political camp that now governs the country also gets the highest position. If that is the case, then the entire country is going in a direction that, in my opinion, is not a good one.”

Runoff election expected

The 59-year-old Korcok wants to continue the outgoing president's pro-Western course. A total of nine men are running, followed in third place by the right-wing extremist disinformer Stefan Harabin, former Minister of Justice and head of the Supreme Court.

It is expected that no candidate will receive an absolute majority in the first round and that there will be a runoff between Korcok and Pellegrini in two weeks. The Fico ally is considered the favorite for this.

The polls close at 10 p.m. Results are expected on Sunday night.

Marianne Allweiss, ARD Prague, tagesschau, March 23, 2024 4:15 p.m

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