Deutsche Tageszeitung - Centrist party shown ahead in tight Slovak election: exit polls

Centrist party shown ahead in tight Slovak election: exit polls

Centrist party shown ahead in tight Slovak election: exit polls

The centrist Progressive Slovakia party is set to win the Slovak election on Saturday, two exit polls showed, ahead of the populist Smer-SD which had vowed to stop aid to neighbouring Ukraine.

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Progressive Slovakia, led by European Parliament vice-speaker Michal Simecka, scored 23.5 percent in an exit poll for TV Markiza and 19.97 percent in a poll for public media company RTVS.

The vote in the EU and NATO member of 5.4 million people is seen as key to whether the country could stay on its pro-Western course or turn more towards Russia.

The campaign was marked by particularly high rates of online disinformation.

Former prime minister Robert Fico's Smer-SD was projected to win 21.9 percent in the Markiza poll and 19.1 percent in the RTVS one.

The final results are expected on Sunday.

The election winner will need help from smaller parties to form a majority coalition in the 150-seat parliament.

The new government will replace a wobbly centre-right coalition in power since 2020, which has seen three cabinets installed over the period and provided hefty military and humanitarian aid to war-stricken Ukraine.

In the heated election campaign, Fico took aim at the EU, NATO and LGBTQ people and rejected providing any further military aid to Ukraine.

Simecka has urged Slovaks to "elect the future" and vowed to rid Slovakia of "the past", referring to Fico's three terms as prime minister.

Simecka, who has vowed to continue aid to Ukraine, said when casting his ballot in Bratislava that he would "accept the election result with humility".

"It is very good that there is a great number of people in Slovakia who want a dignified European future for their country and families," he added.

Smer candidate and deputy parliament speaker Juraj Blanar said: "People trust us and I firmly believe we will win."

- 'For the poor' -

Voting for Smer in Bratislava, Eliska Spisakova said the party was "the natural choice for the working poor, people like me".

"Progressive Slovakia is not interested in people, only gays, drug legalisation, Ukrainians and migrants," the 29-year-old court employee told AFP after voting.

Independent political analyst Grigorij Meseznikov told AFP the vote would determine Slovakia's focus "in foreign policy, defence and security policy, but also... the future of democracy".

Slovakia emerged as an independent country in 1993, following a peaceful split with the Czech Republic after Czechoslovakia shed four decades of totalitarian communist rule in 1989.

Although many Slovaks have experience with the Moscow-steered communist regime, many have voted for populists vowing to stop helping Ukraine.

A study by the Globsec think-tank last year showed a majority of Slovaks believe popular conspiracy theories, and rates of disinformation, including from Kremlin-linked sources, have spiked during the campaign, analysts said.

"Some think peace can be achieved by stopping any aid to Ukraine, and that's where I disagree," Slovak President Zuzana Caputova told AFP.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky meanwhile thanked Slovakia "for standing with Ukraine" on Telegram on the election day.

- Far-right -

The exit polls showed five to seven parties -- and one coalition of three parties -- would win parliamentary seats.

Smer's spin-off Hlas-SD, led by former Smer vice-chairman Peter Pellegrini, will be a sought-after ally after coming third in both exit polls with 12.2 and 11.2 percent.

Pellegrini became premier in 2018 after Fico had to step down amid nationwide protests following the murder of journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancee.

Kuciak uncovered links between the Italian mafia and Fico's government in his last article published posthumously.

Simecka might want to woo the centrist OLaNO, leading a three-party coalition which scored 8 and 9.5 percent, and the right-wing SaS with 6.4 percent in both exit polls.

Both OLaNO and SaS were a part of the government appointed in 2020.

The centrist Christian Democrats are projected to win 5.4 and 6.3 percent.