Slovakia’s populist opposition wins parliamentary election

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Leader of the Ordinary People and Independent Personalities party Igor Matovic addresses his supporters, acknowledging preliminary results of the general election in Trnava, Slovakia, Sunday, March 1, 2020. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

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BRATISLAVA, Slovakia (AP) — The center-right populist opposition claimed victory in the parliamentary election in Slovakia, ending the reign of the country’s long dominant but scandal-tainted leftist party that governed on an anti-immigration platform.

According to nearly complete results released by the Statistics Office early Sunday, the Ordinary People group captured 25% of the vote and 53 seats in the 150-seat parliament in a move that steered the country to the right and could make a local ally of France’s far-right National Rally party led by Marine Le Pen a part of the governing coalition.

“We will try to form the best government Slovakia’s ever had,” Ordinary People chairman Igor Matovic told a cheering crowd of 2,000 supporters in a sports hall in his hometown of Trnava, located northeast of the capital.

Officials measured the temperature of every person coming over the new coronavirus fears. Slovakia hasn’t a single case confirmed yet.

The senior ruling leftist Smer-Social Democracy party led by former populist Prime Minister Robert Fico was in second with 18.3% or 38 seats.

Smer has been in power for most of the past 14 years, winning big in every election since 2006. It gained 28.3% in the last election in 2016 after campaigning on an anti-migrant ticket. But the party was damaged by political turmoil following the 2018 slayings of an investigative journalist and his fiancee.

In what would be a further blow for Smer, its two current coalition partners, the ultra-nationalist Slovak National Party and a party of ethnic Hungarians looked like they wouldn’t win any seats.

Pro-western Matovic, 46, has made fighting corruption and attacking Fico the central tenet of his campaign. An anti-corruption drive has been in his party’s program since he established it 10 years ago.

As the president traditionally asks the election’s winner to try to form a government, he is the likeliest candidate for prime minister. Matovic is expected to govern with the pro-business Freedom and Solidarity party that made 6.2% (13 seats) and the conservative For People established by former President Andrej Kiska that finished with 5.8% (12 seats).

Although the three would have a majority with 78 seats, Matovic said he also want to rule with Le Pen’s ally, We Are Family, a populist right group that placed third with 8.2% or 17 seats.

“I’d like to assure everybody that there’s nothing to worry about,” he said. “We’re not here to fight cultural wars.”

It’s hard to estimate whether their partnership can survive the whole four-year term.

An extreme far-right party whose members use Nazi salutes and which wants Slovakia out of the European Union and NATO became the fourth most popular party in the country of just under 5.5 million with 8% and 17 seats.

The far-right People’s Party Our Slovakia already won 8% and 14 seats in parliament in 2016.

All other parties have ruled out cooperation with the party that advocates the legacy of the Slovak Nazi puppet World War II state.

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