Slovak President Zuzana Caputova has nominated Robert Fico, leader of the populist left Smer party, to have the first chance to form the country’s new cabinet.
“It won’t be an easy process, but we will do everything so that a government of the Slovak Republic is formed,” Fico said after he was given 14 days to from the new cabinet at a meeting with Caputova at the Presidential Palace in Bratislava.
Smer won the snap vote held on Saturday with 23%, ahead of liberal Progressive Slovakia (PS) with 18%, after an aggressive campaign dominated by social media channels. In the final days leading up to the vote, deep fake recordings of PS’s leader Michal Simecka appeared, prompting police to issue an official warning against hoaxes and deep fake videos.
Analysts expect Fico to enter talks with his former party and cabinet colleague Peter Pellegrini, whose centre-left Hlas came third, securing 14%, making Hlas a kingmaker in any coalition talks.
“I feel an enormous responsibility on myself as Hlas’ result makes it a precondition for any ruling coalition in Slovakia to be formed,” Pellegrini said in a debate televised by public broadcaster RTVS.
Caputova and Fico met on October 2 after a lengthy period and for the first time since Caputova filed a lawsuit against Fico in mid-September for “serious lies” and “fabricated accusations” that Fico has been spreading about Caputova.
Members of Caputova’s family were assigned protection after threats to their lives appeared, and Caputova’s spokesperson Martin Strizinec said then that by filing the lawsuit, Caputova is “not just protecting her, but primarily the institution she represents”. Fico has repeatedly referred to Caputova as an “American stooge".
Caputova also met Simecka on Monday, October 2, who informed her of holding informal meetings with other party leaders in an attempt to form a majority-backed coalition without Smer. After securing the highest result for a liberal party in Slovakia’s history, Simecka vowed to continue his party efforts to prevent Smer from returning to power, but it seems unlikely Fico will let slip the opportunity to form a cabinet.
Several of Smer’s high-profile members are being investigated in a number of corruption cases linked to Smer’s previous era in power in the 2010s, and fears abound that Fico will attempt to meddle with the police and judiciary if back in power.
Correspondent at liberal daily DennikN Ivan Stulajter told bne Intellinews that securing himself and his party leadership from investigations is Fico’s “number one priority”. Stulajter pointed to the head of police, Stefan Hamran, as Fico’s “clear target,” adding that Fico and Smer would have a more difficult time with the special procurator, Daniel Lipsic. Both Hamran and Lipsic were already targeted in Fico’s post-election statements.
There is also ongoing speculation that despite being in a comfortable situation, Pellegrini’s past in Smer will limit his freedom of action in the post-election negotations.
Ultranationalist SNS is the most discussed option for the third party in the coalition, but at least four ex-members of neofascist L’SNS were able to enter the parliament on the SNS list thanks to preferential votes, and SNS may now be too toxic an option for Pellegrini.
On October 2, Fico also dismissed a letter Smer received from its European umbrella grouping, the Party of European Socialists (PES), which expressed concerns over Smer's stance on Ukraine.
Fico and Smer have advocated the end of Slovakia's military support of Ukraine and oppose further sanctions on Moscow. Fico has repeated Kremlin talking points that Nato and Ukraine caused the war, saying it began after "Ukrainian Nazis and fascists started to murder Russian citizens in Donbas and Luhansk". Since the election he has doubled down on this rhetoric, claiming “there are fascists in the ranks of the Ukrainian army...We must confront fascism and Nazism in all its manifestations”.
In one of his video messages posted on Facebook, Fico called the PES letter "blackmail" and "undemocratic," adding that Smer is "willing to pay the price" of its possible ejection from the PES group and that it won't change its stand over "peace in Ukraine". Fico reiterated that Smer is "a truly left-wing party," which had now won five elections.