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Slovak Leftists Win Election, Coalition Necessary


Officials results show that Slovakia's opposition leftist party has won the most votes in Saturday's parliamentary elections, but lacks the necessary majority to form a government on its own.

Election officials say the leftist Smer party led by Robert Fico won 29 percent of the vote, compared with 18 percent for Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda's Slovak Democratic and Christian Movement.

Mr. Dzurinda's center-right government brought the ex-communist nation into the European Union and NATO, and made Slovakia a magnet for foreign investors. But Mr. Dzurinda also alienated voters by slashing health care and social benefits to millions.

John Baron, an international financial adviser and former chairman of the British Chamber of Commerce in Bratislava says many voters also were frustrated with tax incentives introduced to attract foreign investors.

"When the new taxation system came in, and the flat rate of 19 percent VAT [value-added tax], sales tax, was imposed on everything, that caused a fair amount of upset and problems. Because, of course, food is one of the items that everybody buys, and, so, consequently, a 19 percent flat tax on food affects both the guy who is driving a tractor in the field, as well as the governor of the National Bank," explained Baron.

Fico has promised to roll back many of the reforms, saying Slovakia needs more solidarity and justice. He has pledged to restore social benefits, improve health services and adjust the taxation system to target rich industrialists and businessmen who capitalized on Mr. Dzurinda's reforms.

Financial adviser Baron says, although Fico's party has no government experience, the 41-year old Smer leader has managed to convince many people to vote for him, by clearly articulating a Social-Democratic message.

"He is a charismatic young man, he is a very powerful speaker, though, some of the economists in Slovakia, and internationally, have looked at the financial proposal of a Smer government, and have questioned whether they are actually not feasible in financial terms," added Baron.

However, without a majority in the 150-seat parliament, Fico will have to negotiate with other parties on forming a coalition. Six parties won enough votes to gain seats in Parliament.

There has been some concern among Western investors Fico could strike a deal with the party of former autocratic Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar, who isolated his nation in the early 1990's, amid Western criticism over alleged human rights abuses and a lack of democracy. Meciar's party won just under nine percent of the vote, so a third party would have to be brought in, as well.

If Fico fails to form a government, current Prime Minister Dzurinda will likely get another chance to form a coalition.

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