June 18, 2024

(Bloomberg) — Slovakia is heading into a tight election contest in the final days of the campaign, according to polls that show firebrand frontrunner Robert Fico facing stiff competition from a pro-European party.

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Fico, a former prime minister seeking a return to office on a campaign that’s denounced sanctions against Russia and military aid to Ukraine, has been leading in most polls ahead of Saturday’s vote. But Progressive Slovakia, which vows to keep the country within the European mainstream, has been narrowing the gap.

The election is shaping up to be one of the most consequential for the eastern European Union nation of 5.4 million since the fall of communism. Fico, an ally of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, has tapped into anxiety of voters that are among the most pro-Russian in the 27-member bloc.

But his return isn’t assured. Two last-minute polls this week showed his Smer party slipping behind Progressive Slovakia, including an AKO survey Wednesday indicating the pro-EU party was ahead by less than a percentage point. An Ipsos poll in Sme newspaper earlier had Fico holding on to a slim lead.

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If the results are close, the path to forming a government would become rockier for both sides, risking a post-election deadlock in Slovakia’s 150-seat parliament. Several smaller parties in a potential kingmaker role have ruled out various forms of cooperation. Infighting among parties in a fragmented landscape helped bring down the government of Prime Minister Eduard Heger late last year, triggering the snap vote.

Fico would struggle to forge a majority with the help of Slovakia’s far right, according to the Ipsos poll. Progressive Slovakia’s hopes to lead a government would require a broader and potentially unwieldy coalition.

Once a Social Democratic reformer, Fico has embraced a populist wave that’s swept Europe — denouncing migration, opposing Ukraine’s NATO aspirations and deriding Slovakia’s reformist president, Zuzana Caputova, as an “American agent.”

Progressive Slovakia was co-founded by Caputova, who was elected to office in 2019 on a pledge to help rid Slovakia of corruption.

–With assistance from Peter Laca.

(Updates with latest poll in fourth paragraph.)

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