Slovakia election won by Russia-friendly populist who could speed up withdrawal of Ukraine support

President-elect Peter Pellegrini is a close ally of populist prime minister Robert Fico, who has already halted Slovak weapon shipments to Kyiv

Vishwam Sankaran
Sunday 07 April 2024 14:20 BST
Related video: Slovakia elect new president amid deep divisions over Ukraine war

Russia-friendly populist candidate Peter Pellegrini has won Slovakia’s presidential election, likely strengthening the government’s resolve to withdraw military support for Ukraine.

Mr Pellegrini, 48, who was the Slovak nationalist-left government’s candidate and a close ally of the populist prime minister Robert Fico, defeated the pro-Western Ivan Korcok with 53 per cent of the vote.

While presidents do not have many executive powers in Slovakia, the election result will strengthen the grip of the pro-Russian prime minister over the country.

As president, Mr Pellgrini can veto laws or challenge them in the court and nominate judges – moves that could make his role important for the fate of Mr Fico’s reforms.

Mr Fico won the 30 September parliamentary elections conducted by the nation of 5.4 million people on a pro-Russian and anti-American platform.

His coalition, which includes a party headed by Mr Pellegrini, already halted Slovak weapon shipments to Ukraine, and Mr Fico has also spoken about Western influence in the region leading to Slavic nations killing each other.

The pro-Russian prime minister has also initiated reforms of criminal law and the media, raising concerns about the weakening of the rule of law.

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However, Mr Pellegrini has portrayed himself as more moderate compared to the prime minister.

In the lead-up to the elections, he accused his rival Mr Korcok – a former ambassador to the US and Germany as well as a former envoy to Nato – of being a warmonger who would send Slovak soldiers to fight in Ukraine. The president does not have the power to control troop deployments.

Mr Pellegrini told the AFP ahead of the vote that the EU and Nato were “divided between those who are in favour of the continuation of the war [between Russia and Ukraine] at all costs, and those who demand the start of peace negotiations”.

“I will do everything for Slovakia to forever remain on the side of peace and not the side of war,” Mr Pellegrini said.

He said on Saturday that his election would not mean a rush to any fundamental change in foreign policy.

“This is not about the future direction of foreign policy. I also guarantee, like the other candidate, that we will continue to be a strong member of the EU and Nato,” the president-elect added.

Mr Korcok conceded defeated, but accused Mr Pellegrini of winning by spreading fear.

“A campaign can be won by making the other a candidate of war. I will not forget this. The decisive factor was high turnout; I respect that, but it was fear that decided... spreading fear and hatred,” he said, according to Reuters.

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