Pro-Western diplomat faces ally of populist premier as Slovakia goes to polls

Voters in Slovakia headed to the ballot stations on Saturday to elect a successor to Zuzana Caputova, the country’s first female president and a staunch backer of neighbouring Ukraine in its fight against Russia’s invasion.

Former foreign minister Ivan Korcok won the first round of voting two weeks ago after receiving 42.5% of the votes.

The pro-Western career diplomat faces Peter Pellegrini, who finished second with 37%, for the largely ceremonial post.

Ms Caputova is not seeking a second term.

Mr Pellegrini is a close ally of populist Prime Minister Robert Fico known for his pro-Russian policies.

The two advanced to Saturday’s runoff after none of the nine male candidates won an outright majority in the first round. Polls had predicted a tight race in the nation of 5.4 million.

Before serving as the foreign minister in 2020-2022, Mr Korcok, 60, served as the ambassador to the United States and Germany. He was also the country’s envoy to Nato and the European Union.

Mr Korcok firmly supports Slovakia’s EU and Nato memberships.

“It’s a moment when the people have it all in their hands,” Mr Korcok said after voting in Senec, near the capital of Bratislava. “It’s a moment when we, politicians, have to listen carefully.”

Meanwhile, Mr Pellegrini, 48, heads the left-wing Hlas (Voice) party — that finished third in parliamentary elections last year — and favours a strong role for the state. His party joined a governing coalition with Mr Fico’s leftist Smer (Direction) party and the ultranationalist Slovak National Party.

Mr Fico’s government, upon coming to power in September, immediately halted arms deliveries to Ukraine, prompting nationwide protests against its pro-Russian stance and several other policies.

Mr Pellegrini currently serves as parliament speaker and his victory would cement Mr Fico’s power by giving him and his allies control of strategic posts.

“It will likely be an extremely tight contest,” Mr Pellegrini said after casting his ballot in Rovinka near Bratislava.

“Both sides seemed successful in mobilising their supporters.”

Critics worry Slovakia under Mr Fico will abandon its pro-Western course and follow the direction of Hungary under populist Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

Polls will close at 8pm GMT and results are expected late on Saturday or early on Sunday.

The winner will become the country’s sixth head of state since Slovakia gained independence in 1993 after Czechoslovakia split in two.


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