Pro-West candidate beats Slovakia PM’s ally to set up presidential run-off

Ex-Foreign Minister Ivan Korcok and current parliament Speaker Peter Pellegrini to face off in April’s vote dominated by the Ukraine war.

Slovakia’s former pro-West Foreign Minister Ivan Korcok and current parliament Speaker Peter Pellegrini will face off in April’s presidential election run-off, according to the final results.

The liberal Korcok led with 42.44 percent backing with 99.9 percent of the vote counted, while former Prime Minister Pellegrini earned 37.07 percent, the Slovak Statistical Office said late on Saturday.

The result was expected by analysts as the 48-year-old Pellegrini and 59-year-old Korcok topped the opinion polls before the vote marked by deep divisions on the war in neighbouring Ukraine.

The presidential election is a chance for Prime Minister Robert Fico, whose views on Ukraine have angered critics for veering too close to Russia, to strengthen his grip on power.

President Zuzana Caputova, 50, who has been a fierce opponent of Fico, did not seek a new term. But the opposition forces want a counterbalance to Fico’s rule.

Korcok, a career diplomat who was a minister in a past government, will advance to a run-off on April 6 against Pellegrini, who heads the Hlas (Voice) party.

A Russian-leaning former Supreme Court chief, Stefan Harabin, gained the third most votes at just 11.75 percent, after getting support from a nationalist party that is also in the government coalition. His voters could help Pellegrini.

“I certainly have to speak to the tens of thousands of voters of the ruling coalition who disagree with where the government is pulling Slovakia,” Korcok told his supporters.

Fico and his ruling leftist Smer party won a parliamentary election last September with pledges to halt military aid to Ukraine and maintain support for people hit by price surges.

Pellegrini, a former member of Smer, was key in forming a coalition and said the first-round results showed a majority did not want a “liberal-right-progressive” president who would only be in conflict with the government.

“The majority in Slovakia expressed an interest in having a president who will defend the national state interests,” he said.

Presidents do not wield many executive powers but have a role in government and judicial appointments, can veto laws and shape public debate as the liberal Caputova often did.

Voters in the past have rejected giving ruling parties both the government and presidential offices, including Caputova’s win in 2019 when anticorruption sentiment hurt Fico’s party, which was in government then.

“This election will show whether mass protests that have taken place in Bratislava and other major cities in recent weeks are also supported by people who usually express their disapproval at the polling stations,” said Radoslav Stefancik, political analyst at the University of Economics in Bratislava.

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