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Two still in race to replace Slovakia president

By EARLE GALE in London | China Daily Global | Updated: 2024-03-25 01:08
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Slovakia's presidential candidate Peter Pellegrini speaks on the day of the country's presidential election, in Bratislava, Slovakia on March 24. [Photo/Agencies]

Slovakia's next president will either be a pro-European Union former foreign minister or a close ally of the country's populist prime minister, after the first round of the country's presidential election narrowed the field, from nine hopefuls to two.

Ivan Korcok, the liberal who got the most votes in Saturday's first round, wants closer relations with Brussels if he makes it to the presidential palace.

He will face Peter Pellegrini, speaker in the country's Parliament and leader of the Hlas party, which is part of Prime Minister Robert Fico's ruling coalition.

The candidates, who will now take part in a run-off on April 6, are seeking to replace President Zuzana Caputova, who is not seeking a new term.

Caputova had been a strong critic of Fico and her replacement will, therefore, either strengthen Fico's hand, if ally Pellegrini is successful, or continue to challenge his rule, if Korcok triumphs.

Fico has been a divisive figure in recent months, after taking an increasingly pro-Russian stance over the Russia-Ukraine conflict. He has also angered critics for attempting to overhaul the country's criminal justice system, and for a perceived crackdown on media freedom in the nation of 5.4 million.

In the first round of voting, Korcok took 42.5 percent of the vote while Pellegrini attracted 37.1 percent, the Slovak Statistics Office said.

Slovakia's presidential candidate Ivan Korcok speaks as he reacts to preliminary result of the country's presidential election, in Bratislava, Slovakia, on March 23. [Photo/Agencies]

Observers said third-place finisher Stefan Harabin, a former supreme court chief who polled 11.75 percent of the vote, is also pro-Russia and his supporters will likely now get behind Pellegrini, making him the firm favorite in the next round.

Korcok told supporters he will need to draw support from a wide range of voters if he is to be successful.

"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 … including in foreign policy," Reuters quoted him as saying.

Pellegrini said he will reach out to nationalists in the next round.

"The majority in Slovakia expressed an interest in having a president who will defend the national state interests," AFP quoted him as saying. "The results have shown that most people in Slovakia do not want a liberal, progressive president."

While presidents do not have a direct role in Slovakia's government, they do have the ability to appoint members of government and the judiciary, and can veto laws. They also have a key role in shaping public opinion, and sit as commander-in-chief of the armed forces.

Pellegrini has said he will not withdraw Slovakia from either the EU or NATO if he becomes president, but he does not support offering Ukraine military assistance, which could exacerbate differences between the nation and the organizations.

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