Populist Slovak ex-prime minister signs coalition deal with 2 other parties to form a new government

BRATISLAVA, Slovakia (AP) — A populist former prime minister of Slovakia who plans to end the country’s military support for Ukraine signed on Monday a coalition agreement with the leaders of two other parties to form a new government.

Robert Fico and his leftist Smer, or Direction, won the Sept 30 parliamentary election with 22.9% of the vote, taking 42 seats in the 150-seat legislature. He needed to find coalition partners to govern with a majority.

Fico inked a deal with Peter Pellegrini, the head of 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.

Pellegrini was previously a senior member of Fico's party but broke away to form Hlas after the scandal-tainted Smer lost the 2020 election. Their reunion was key to Fico’s ability to form a government.

The three parties agreed last week that Fico’s party will appoint the prime minister and have 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 parliamentary speaker and seven Cabinet ministers, while the Slovak National Party will have three ministers.

Fico said the three parties still have to nominate their ministers before he delivers the list to President Zuzana Caputova, whose role it is to swear in the new government.

Fico didn’t say when that might happen but repeated he hoped to represent Slovakia at the next European Union leaders' summit, scheduled for late next week.

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

Smer will have the posts of the foreign, justice, defense and finance ministers, among others.

Fico said Monday the foreign ministry “won’t speak for foreign interests.”

Hlas will be in charge of the interior, economy and education ministries while the Slovak National Party will get the culture and environment ministers.

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.