Presidential election in Slovakia | A vote resembling a confrontation in a country divided over Ukraine

(Bratislava) Slovaks vote on Saturday in the first round of the presidential election, a vote resembling a confrontation between a representative of the ruling camp close to Russia and a candidate favorable to Ukraine, supported by the opposition.

According to polls, Parliament President Peter Pellegrini is credited with 37% of voting intentions compared to 36% for Ivan Korcok, former Minister of Foreign Affairs and seasoned diplomat.

If none of the nine candidates in the running obtains more than 50% of the votes, a second round will be necessary on April 6.

Voting ends at 10 p.m. (5 p.m. Eastern). No exit polls are expected.

Mr. Pellegrini, former head of government, has the support of the current populist Prime Minister Robert Fico, who refuses to provide military aid to Ukraine, questions the sovereignty of this country and calls for peace with the Russia.


Candidate Peter Pellegrini

After voting, he stressed that Slovakia would remain anchored in the European Union and NATO, despite Mr Fico’s statements.

“Even if we talk about a more sovereign foreign policy, this does not mean that the course of Slovakia’s foreign policy should change,” he said.

Mr. Korcok, on the other hand, fully defends the Ukrainian cause. He holds views similar to those of outgoing President Zuzana Caputova, a vocal critic of the government, who has decided not to seek a second term.


Candidate Ivan Korcok

“People know what I stand for. Now it’s up to them to go and vote,” declared Mr. Korcok after slipping his ballot into the ballot box.

Voting in the town of Pezinok, east of Bratislava, Mme Caputova said she hoped her successor would “represent our country well abroad.”

“Fico 2.0”

Among the other candidates in the running, eurosceptic Stefan Harabin, 66, who has openly praised Russian President Vladimir Putin, comes third in the polls.

In Bratislava, Tomas Gubala, a computer engineer, voted for Mr Korcok, “the only viable option”, according to him, “because Pellegrini is essentially a Fico 2.0”.


Korcok election sign

For Ondrej Putra, who returned to Bratislava from Birmingham, England, to vote, the president is Slovakia’s “most visible representative” and Mr. Korcok has his “reputation and contacts.”

Juraj Jankovich, retired from Bratislava, judged that Mr. Pellegrini would “bring order to Slovakia”. “He is honest and never lets people down. He has been a calm and wise prime minister and he will be a good president,” he added.

Analysts say a president backed by Mr. Fico could strengthen the anti-Ukrainian foreign policy of the government of this country of 5.4 million people, a member of NATO and the European Union.


Pellegrini election sign

“Pellegrini (…) will most likely act as an ally” of Mr. Fico’s government, analyst Pavol Babos, based in Bratislava, told AFP, while Ivan Korcok will most likely be his “counterweight”. “He will use various tools to correct their anti-democratic tendencies,” he added.

The war in neighboring Ukraine divided Slovaks during the election campaign.

During the last debate before the vote, Mr. Pellegrini, 48, called for “an immediate ceasefire and the opening of peace negotiations” between Kyiv and Moscow.

A position denounced by Mr. Korcok, 59 years old.

“The Russian Federation has trampled on international law (…). I don’t think Ukraine should give up part of its territory to achieve peace,” he told AFP. “Peace cannot be synonymous with capitulation,” he insisted.


Mr Korcok is supported by the opposition which considers that a victory for Mr Pellegrini would open the way to the granting of a presidential pardon for allies of power guilty of corruption.

Over the years, Robert Fico allowed Mr. Pellegrini to access various positions, including that of President of Parliament.

The latter himself became prime minister after the fall of the Fico government in 2018, following the murder of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancée.

This affair triggered large demonstrations which forced Robert Fico to resign, the journalist having worked on the links between his Smer-SD party and the Italian mafia.

Although his functions are primarily ceremonial, the Slovak head of state ratifies international treaties, appoints key judges and is commander-in-chief of the armed forces.


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