Slovakian premier's hopes of forming a coalition improve

Slovakia's Prime Minister and leader of Smer party Robert Fico leaves after a live broadcast of a debate after the country's parliamentary election, in Bratislava, Slovakia, March 6, 2016. REUTERS/David W Cerny

BRATISLAVA (Reuters) - Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico's efforts to form a new government got a boost on Saturday after the head of a rival party said it would negotiate with him after all.

Fico, whose centre-left Smer party won the most votes but lost its parliamentary majority at last weekend's inconclusive election, has until Friday to form a government.

Smer needs to find at least two and probably three coalition partners among the eight parties that won parliamentary seats. So far, only the Slovak National Party has said it has found common ground with Smer.

The Most-Hid (Bridge) party, which has support among the Hungarian minority, at first refused to negotiate with Fico, saying it preferred a broad coalition of six centre-right parties.

Such a coalition would also have to include the Slovak National Party (SNS), but its leader Andrej Danko said on Saturday he would not join because he feared that the inclusion of two protest movements would be a source of potential instability.

"After today's decision by the SNS it's clear that a right-wing government can't be formed in Slovakia," Most-Hid chief Bela Bugar told reporters on Saturday evening.

"We are willing to negotiate with Smer and we are calling on all standard parties to be ready for a compromise that would enable the formation of a stable government," Bugar said.

Fico now needs another U-turn by a potential coalition partner in order to secure a parliamentary majority - possibly the centrist Siet (Net), which had also initially refused to treat with Smer.

If Fico fails in his negotiations President Andrej Kiska is expected to hand the task of forming a government to Richard Sulik, head of the second strongest, economically liberal Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) party.

If Sulik then failed to form a government the possible consequences would be several, including a grand coalition, a caretaker cabinet or a snap election.

Slovakia will take over the rotating presidency of the European Union in the second half of the year, giving it a stronger voice on issues such as Europe's migration crisis.

The new government would also be under pressure at home to improve healthcare and schooling and tackle corruption, issues which a blamed for causing some voters to turn against Smer, even though economic growth has remained strong during Fico's time in office.

(Reporting By Tatiana Jancarikova; Editing by Kevin Liffey, Greg Mahlich)