In the early stages of vote counting
on Sunday, the populist SMER-SSD party, led by former Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico, emerged as the frontrunner, despite exit polls indicating that the liberal Progressive Slovakia party was in the lead. As of the latest update, with 90.15% of votes counted, SMER-SSD holds the top position with 23.69% of the partial votes, while Progressive Slovakia is currently in second place with 15.68%. Two earlier exit polls had predicted a narrow victory for Progressive Slovakia, which would require the support of smaller parties to form a government in the 150-seat parliament. The center-left Hlas (Voice) party, led by former Smer-SD member and Prime Minister from 2018-2020 Peter Pellegrini, is a close third with 15.43% of the votes. Hlas may play a pivotal role in the formation of a coalition government. Prior to the election, Pellegrini did not express a preference for either of the larger parties, but noted that his party was more aligned with Fico's SMER-SSD.
The electoral campaigns have been characterized by significant differences in foreign policy. Fico has stated that if he were to regain power, Slovakia would continue to support Ukraine, but would refrain from providing arms or ammunition. Despite being labeled as pro-Russian by his opponents, Fico has rejected this criticism. A Progressive Slovakia government would maintain Bratislava's current support for Kyiv. According to sociologist Michal Vasecka, Fico has capitalized on the anxiety caused by the pandemic and the war in Ukraine, as well as the growing anger in Slovakia over the past three years. Slovakia currently has the highest inflation rate in the eurozone, standing at 10%, and a financially depleted healthcare system. Fico has also garnered support due to dissatisfaction with the center-right coalition, whose government collapsed last year, leading to early elections.
In recent weeks, there has been a noticeable increase in the number of unauthorized migrants entering Slovakia from Hungary. Some speculate that this may be a deliberate strategy by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban to influence the upcoming election in favor of Robert Fico.
Nove Zamky, a small town located in southern Slovakia near the Slovak-Hungarian border, has recently witnessed a surge in the presence of unauthorized migrants, with hundreds temporarily settling in the town center.
The situation reached a critical point late last month when approximately 800 migrants from the Middle East, predominantly from Syria, were brought to the nearby offices of the Foreign Police, the Slovak police unit responsible for managing migration on the ground. While these migrants had not violated any laws, local residents expressed concerns regarding issues such as litter, noise, odors, and individuals sleeping on the streets.
Initially, illegal migration was primarily concentrated in towns and villages along the Slovak-Hungarian border. However, less than 10 days before Slovakia's parliamentary elections, the problem has now extended to other neighboring municipalities and even the capital city of Bratislava, where migrants have congregated at the main train station.
According to Tobias, a journalist who commutes to Bratislava by train daily, the scene he witnessed was quite distressing. He observed individuals sleeping on mats and children nestled in sleeping bags, with their clothes being dried on wires strung between trees. However, presently, the migrant population at the station has significantly decreased, as the local police have relocated most of them to the facilities of the Foreign Police unit.
"It was a distressing scene, with individuals sleeping on mats and children huddled in sleeping bags. There was even the sight of clothes being dried on wires strung between the trees," recounts Tobias, a journalist who commutes to Bratislava by train on a daily basis.
Presently, the number of migrants at the station is significantly reduced, as the local police have relocated most of them to the premises of the Foreign Police unit. In various aspects, the three-time former Prime Minister Fico bears resemblance to Orban: both individuals exhibit a hostile stance towards NATO and the European Union, while maintaining a conciliatory approach towards Russia. If Fico were to assume leadership of the next Slovak government, Orban would secure a close ally.
Grigorij Meseznikov, President of the Institute for Public Affairs in Bratislava, dismisses this notion as highly speculative. He acknowledges that Orban did release some smugglers from prison, but emphasizes that Orban's actions do not mirror those of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, who actively directed illegal migrants towards the Polish border in 2021. Meseznikov asserts that there is no evidence to suggest Orban is engaging in similar activities, as he conveyed to DW.
Meseznikov asserts that the only viable resolution to the current situation lies in the collaboration between Slovakia and Hungary at the border between Hungary and Serbia.
According to the latest poll conducted by Focus Agency, Smer has received 19% of the vote, which is a decrease of one percentage point from the previous poll conducted in August. Conversely, Progressive Slovakia (PS), a party with a liberal migration policy, has experienced a steady increase in support, with the party now polling at over 16%.
Meseznikov stated that Slovakia is no longer the xenophobic country it once was, citing the fact that over 100,000 migrants from Ukraine are currently living and working in the country without issue. He further added that many Slovaks have come to the realization that migrants do not pose a threat to their safety.
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