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Slovak President Asks Incumbent PM to Form New Government

  • Stefan Bos

Slovakia's president has requested Prime Minister Robert Fico to form a government, despite a center-right opposition coalition winning more seats in Saturday's parliamentary vote. President Ivan Gasparovic says he will give Mr. Fico the first chance to form a Cabinet, because his left-leaning party won the most seats in parliament. But results suggest that that for the first time a woman may become Slovakia's next prime minister.

With nearly all votes counted, Slovakia's Statistics Office says the leftist SMER Party of incumbent Prime Minister Robert Fico remains the largest political force in the country with about 62 seats in the 150-seat Parliament.

But the results indicate it is difficult for him to form another coalition government because a key ally, the party of former prime minister Vladimir Meciar, has received less than the five-percent needed to win parliamentary representation.

This marks a possible end for the political career of Mr. Meciar, who led Slovakia in the 1990s after it split from the Czech Republic, but was criticized internationally for his perceived autocratic style.

Mr. Fico says his SMER Party may now become "a tough opposition" to the alternative of a center-right government. He told reporters that despite the political set-back, he considers the results as positive for his party.

He says we have information that the SMER Party received 35 percent of the vote. Mr. Fico explains that this is "a success because it is [about] the same result as in 2006." The prime minister adds he does now want to talk about who will stay in power and who not, but he says he regards the elections as a "positive evaluation" of his party's four years work.

But analysts say scandals surrounding his alleged involvement in illegal fund raising for his SMER Party - charges he denies - and the ailing economy made his coalition vulnerable to the center-right opposition. He had promised to maintain the country's welfare state, despite other European countries cutting their budgets.

Observers say Mr. Fico's statements regarding Hungary helped his party. Many Slovaks were angered by recently adopted Hungarian legislation making it easier for ethnic Hungarians living in Slovakia and other neighboring countries to obtain a passport from Budapest.

The issue dominated election campaign debate and Prime Minister Fico's administration successfully introduced a counter law that effectively bans double citizenship for Slovakia's half-million ethnic Hungarians.

Ironically, ethnic-Hungarian politicians are expected to play a key role in a four-party coalition government of Iveta Radicova, the leader of the main opposition Slovak Democratic and Christian Union. She would become the first female prime minister since Slovakia declared independence in 1993.

Ms. Radicova, who has ruled out forming a coalition with the SMER Party, says Slovaks voted for responsibility.

She tells reporters she will do everything to make Slovakia an attractive European country again. Slovakia was long considered the economic tiger of the region. Ms. Radicova makes clear that in her view the election results show there is no other alternative than a center-right government.

Ms. Radicova and her right-leaning allied parties have pledged economic reforms to avoid an economic crisis.

Slovakia is the latest of several European countries this year in which right-leaning parties received victories.

In May, conservative parties in Britain ended 13 years of Labor Party rule, while Hungary's center-right Fidesz Party ousted the Socialists in April.

The voter turnout in Slovakia's election was higher than four years ago, about 59 percent, despite major flooding in several parts of the Eastern European country of over five-million people.

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