Populist former prime minister in Slovakia signs a deal to form a new government

BRATISLAVA, Slovakia (AP) — A former prime minister of Slovakia who plans to end the country’s military support for Ukraine is poised to return to office after his political party signed a deal Wednesday with two other parties to form a coalition government.

The leftist Smer, or Direction, party captured 22.9% of the vote in Slovakia’s Sept 30 parliamentary election. The party’s leader, populist former Prime Minister Robert Fico, needed to find coalition partners to rule with a majority in the country’s 150-seat Parliament.

The memorandum signed Wednesday provides for a coalition of Smer, which holds 42 seats; the left-wing Hlas, or Voice, party, which placed third in the election and has 27 seats; and the ultra-nationalist and pro-Russia Slovak National Party, which has 10 lawmakers in the new parliament.

Fico’s former deputy in Smer, Peter Pellegrini, is the leader of Hlas. Pellegrini parted ways with Fico after the scandal-tainted Smer lost the previous election in 2020. Their reunion was a key to Fico’s ability to form a government.

It was not immediately clear when President Zuzana Caputova might swear in the new government. Fico said he hoped to represent Slovakia at the next summit of the leaders of European Union member nations, which is scheduled for late October.

As part of the coalition deal, Smer will get to appoint the prime minister and six other ministers, opening the way for Fico to serve as Slovakia’s head of government for the fourth time.

Hlas will get to name the parliament speaker and seven Cabinet ministers, and the Slovak National Party three ministers.

The deal struck by the three groups means that the Progressive Slovakia party, a liberal, pro-Western newcomer that took second place in the election with 18% of the vote, will end up in the opposition. The party holds 32 seats in parliament.

Fico campaigned on a pro-Russian and anti-American message. He has vowed to withdraw Slovakia’s military support for Ukraine, and his victory could further strain the fragile unity in the European Union and NATO.

He said he wants Slovakia to remain a member of the EU and NATO but with “full respect” for his country’s sovereignty.

“The protection of sovereignty and national interests of Slovakia will be the government’s priority,” Fico said. He pledged the protect his country against illegal migration that has been recently on the rise in Europe.

Fico’s critics worry that his return to power could lead Slovakia to abandon its course in other ways, following the path of Hungary under Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and to a lesser extent of Poland under the Law and Justice party.

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