(Reuters) – Center-right parties won a majority in Slovakia’s election at the weekend and looked set to oust Prime Minister Robert Fico with a coalition focused on cutting the budget gap and mending ties with neighbor Hungary.
Although preliminary results showed that Fico’s SMER party had garnered the most support in the Saturday election with 34.8 percent of the vote, they gave 79 of parliament’s 150 seats to four center-right and ethnic Hungarian parties.
The conservative SDKU, which ruled the euro zone’s poorest country from 1998 to 2006, came in second at 15.4 percent and has started coalition talks with the conservative Christian Democrats (KDH), the newly formed liberal Freedom and Solidarity party (SaS), and the ethnic Hungarian Most-Hid party.
The SDKU introduced a flat tax rate, sold major state firms and overhauled the pension and welfare sectors during its previous stint in government. It also led Slovakia into the EU in 2004.
“SMER is the winner of the election, but it is not enough to be the winner. You also need to be able to form a government,” said SDKU leader Iveta Radicova.
“Our wish is that this country will be called the tiger of Europe once again,” she added.
Analysts say a center-right grouping would be better placed to cut a budget deficit that hit 6.8 percent of gross domestic product last year.
Slovakia’s export-reliant economy, which shrank by 4.7 percent last year, has been recovering and the EU forecasts 2.7 percent growth this year, the bloc’s fastest along with Poland.
Although Fico, popular for a tough leadership style that favored average Slovaks over big business, has little chance of retaining power, President Ivan Gasparovic said he planned to stick with the tradition of asking the strongest party to try to form a government.
He added, however, that ultimately it would be the group that can guarantee a majority that would form the government.
All four center-right party leaders rejected calls from Fico for cooperation and political analyst Samuel Abraham said he had “almost zero chance” of staying in office.
“We need a change. We need honest politics to prevail,” said KDH chief Jan Figel.
A center-right grouping would be expected to try to tackle widespread corruption and improve relations with Hungary, amid strains over the rights of Slovakia’s half a million Hungarian minority.
Hungarian Deputy Prime Minister Zsolt Semjen welcomed the likely formation of a center-right government on Sunday, telling the MTI news agency it was a “very big result.”
Slovaks adopted the euro in 2009 and, with living standards at just 72 percent of the EU average, have questioned whether they should help richer debt-laden euro zone countries.
SDKU and SaS have said they would refuse to pay Slovakia’s 800-million-euro share of the EU bailout for Greece. Some analysts have said they may back off the threat if they form government.
(Additional reporting by Michael Winfrey in Bratislava and Krisztina Than in Budapest, Editing by Noah Barkin)