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BRATISLAVA — Slovaks are headed to the polls Saturday in a intently watched election that has the potential to complicate the Western response to Ukraine and put the nation on a extra intolerant, autocratic course.

The front-runner within the majority of polls by a whisper of a margin is Robert Fico, 59, a populist former prime minister who was pressured out of energy in shame 5 years in the past and has made a comeback bid in a conspiracy theory-laden marketing campaign, laced with pro-Russian and anti-American discourse.

Who’s Robert Fico? Professional-Russia populist is favored in Slovakia elections.

A victory by Fico’s Smer occasion can be one other signal of Europe’s tilt towards populist forces, which have capitalized on spiraling prices of residing and nervousness over the Ukraine struggle. It might additionally flip an ally within the Western response to Ukraine right into a spoiler, with Fico threatening to cease arms deliveries and block European Union sanctions in opposition to Russia.

Throughout a poisonous marketing campaign, Fico tapped into the nation’s longtime polarization towards Moscow and deep dissatisfaction with the earlier authorities as he has parroted Russian propaganda and blamed “Ukrainian Nazis” for beginning the struggle.

However the election stays too-tight-to-call. Just about stage with Fico’s occasion within the polls is Progressive Slovakia, headed by Michal Simecka, 39, a former journalist who would develop into the nation’s youngest-ever prime minister if he took energy. He has a drastically completely different imaginative and prescient for a pro-European, liberal Slovakia and has made last-minute positive factors within the polls.

A ultimate IPSOS ballot revealed Wednesday put assist for Fico’s Smer occasion at 20.6 p.c in contrast with 19.8 for Progressive Slovakia.

“It is going to be tight, however decency might prevail,” Simecka wrote in a Fb submit this week.

Whoever comes out forward can have the primary probability at cobbling collectively a coalition authorities, amid a fractured political scene the place no occasion is anticipated to win greater than 1 / 4 of the vote. A lot might experience on a raft of smaller events which are on the edge of reaching the minimal of 5 p.c of the vote wanted to enter parliament.

“Slovakia can select a European, dignified future as an alternative of chaos and isolation in these elections,” Simecka stated.

In the meantime, in an all-caps message on his web page, Fico criticized Ukraine for its determination to take authorized motion in response to Slovakia banning its grain imports: “THE WORLD IS STARTING TO GET FED UP WITH ZELENSKY AND UKRAINE, BECAUSE THEY ARE UNGRATEFUL AND STILL UNSATISFIED!”

A professional-Russian tide in Slovakia might threaten Europe’s unity on Ukraine

Simecka has warned {that a} fourth time period for Fico might usher in an ally for Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban within the E.U., with “main implications” for the bloc’s capacity to ship additional arms to Ukraine and enact new rounds of sanctions.

Whereas a Fico authorities would symbolize a shift in Ukraine coverage from a neighbor that has led on deliveries of tanks and heavy weapons, analysts say the impression of his risk to chop off arms deliveries may very well be restricted. Fico has solely specified that he’ll cease sending arms from Slovakia’s already depleted army shares, and has avoided threats to halt provides from the nation’s arms producers that inventory Ukraine with much-needed artillery shells.

“I don’t purchase the utterly gloomy eventualities if Fico makes a authorities,” stated Milan Nic, an analyst with the German Council on Overseas Relations, who factors out that Slovakia is extra depending on the E.U. than Hungary, whereas Fico is extra consumed by investigations into his associates at dwelling.

“He’s far more domestically centered than Mr. Orban,” Nic stated. “That’s to not say that they received’t assist one another.”

Analysts say that on the forefront of Fico’s agenda can be placing an finish to the corruption probes which have dogged him and his associates since was pressured to resign within the wake of an investigative journalist’s slaying.

Jan Kuciak, who was fatally shot alongside his fiancée, Martina Kusnirova, had been investigating hyperlinks between the Italian mafia and associates of Fico.

How Slovakia stood as much as a journalist’s slaying and kicked out its prime minister

Fico’s marketing campaign has additionally centered on immigration and the price of residing, as Slovakia experiences the best inflation within the euro space, almost double the typical of different nations that use the euro.

Simecka, in the meantime, has pledged to keep up the nation’s assist for Ukraine and velocity up its inexperienced transition. He has stated he is not going to work with Fico or the far proper, however is in any other case open to a spread of coalition companions.

“For me, the precedence is stopping Robert Fico from forming a authorities,” Simecka advised Reuters this month. “You need to make compromises.”

#Slovakia #election #AntiUkraine #populist #Fico #faces #exjournalist #Simecka

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