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STORY: Slovakia's pro-Russia Robert Fico was in pole position to start talks on forming a government on Sunday (October 1), after winning the country's parliamentary election.
Three-time former prime minister Fico's SMER-SSD party won almost 23% of the vote, more than any other party, after campaigning on a mandate to end military aid to Ukraine.
A government led by Fico would see NATO member Slovakia joining Hungary in challenging the European Union's consensus on support for Ukraine.
It would also signal a further shift in the region against political liberalism, which will once again be tested when Poland goes to the polls later this month.
Though touted to win by the exit polls, liberal party Progressive Slovakia, or PS, took second place. Its leader Michal Simecka vowed to seek partners to prevent the former leftist prime minister's return to power.
"Realistically, there are two options, you know, at the table. One is the government led by Mr. Fico, and the other one is a coalition made up of Progressive Slovakia and other partners, which would, in fact, have over 80 MPs. But we fully respect the fact that the president, as she has said before, is likely to nominate Mr. Fico to give it a try first."
Fico's party is more nationalist and socially conservative, criticizing social liberalism, which it says is imposed form Brussels. The PS is liberal on green policies, LGBT rights, deeper European integration and human rights.
Five other parties won seats. Third-placed leftist party HLAS (Voice) is an offshoot of Fico's SMER party and may be poised to become the kingmaker of a coalition.
HLAS leader Peter Pellegrini is a former colleague of Fico's and kept his options open on future coalitions.