Former foreign minister Ivan Korcok wins first round of Slovak presidential race

Former foreign minister Ivan Korcok wins first round of Slovak presidential race
Ivan Korcok, a career diplomat backed by the opposition, collected 42.51% and advanced to the second round run-off held on April 6. / Ivan Korcok's office.
By Albin Sybera March 24, 2024

Ivan Korcok, a former pro-Western foreign minister, has unexpectedly won the first round of Slovakia's presidential race, ahead of the populist government's candidate, parliamentary speaker Peter Pellegrini.

Korcok, a career diplomat backed by the opposition, collected 42.51% and advanced to the second round run-off held on April 6, where he will face Pellegrini, leader of the centre-left Hlas party in the governing left-right coalition, who collected 37.02%. 

The government of leftist populist Robert Fico has ended Slovak military aid to Ukraine and Fico himself has parroted Kremlin narratives of the causes of the Russian invasion, though he has not tried to block Russian sanctions and EU aid to Ukraine, unlike Hungary's strongman Viktor Orban. Pellegrini, who split with Fico after the previous election, has up to now taken a more Western stance on the conflict than Fico, though he may now be forced to take a more populist stance to win the run-off.

Despite the surprisingly strong performance, Korcok did not appear in a celebratory mood, in a tacit acknowledgement that Pellegrin remains the favourite in that run-off.  

“The result looks hopeful, but we all know well that for the victory in the second round, we need yet a little more”, Korcok wrote on his Facebook social media page.

He vowed to do  “everything to convince other people”, including “tens of thousands of voters of the ruling coalition who do not agree where the government is pulling Slovakia to”.

Korcok is backed by the liberal opposition, which has been helping to organise country-wide protests against changes in the judiciary, public institutions, and public media that Fico’s  cabinet have been pushing through since taking over power last autumn.  

Pellegrini appeared focused on the second round as soon as results began to arrive, referring to the first round as akin to the “semi-finals”.

“We have where to draw [on voters]. We have to admit that Stefan Harabin received really big support from the people,” said Pellegrini, openly signalling that he would seek the support of the electorate of the far-right candidate, who collected 11.73%.

Harabin was endorsed by Pellegrini’s ruling coalition colleague, Andrej Danko, leader of the far-right SNS party, but it is not yet certain Harabin will endorse Pellegrini, whom far-right circles have often insinuated is homosexual. 

The country’s commentators agree that Fico will now be more active ahead of the next round to help Pellegrini move into the Presidential Palace and secure a potential ally in the office. Fico has been criticised by Korcok and the popular sitting president, liberal lawyer and former environmental activist Zuzana Caputova.

Fico’s  Smer party “expects a tight match up in the second round and continues to fully support the Hlas candidate Pellegrin, who is a better solution for Slovakia than Korcok,” Fico stated in a nod to his cabinet’s nationalist agenda.

Pellegrin declared that “results show that most people in Slovakia do not wish [to have] liberal-progressive president” and prefer a “president who will defend the nationalist interests of Slovakia” and “won’t drag Slovakia into war but will talk about peace”.  Harabin has declared zero tolerance for military backing of Ukraine.

Pellegrini described Korcok as “liberal-progressive” even though Korcok has described himself as more of a conservative. He was chief diplomat in the right-wing cabinets of Igor Matovic and Eduard Heger.