The center-right opposition has won a parliamentary election in Slovakia, nearly complete results showed on Sunday.
The Statistics Office said the governing left-leaning party of Prime Minister Robert Fico was the clear overall winner with 34.8 per cent of the vote, or 62 seats in the 150-seat Parliament with votes from 5,900 of the 5,929 polling stations counted early Sunday. But three opposition parties could form a ruling coalition with an ethnic Hungarian party with a majority of 79 seats. Fico's junior coalition partner, the ultranationalist Slovak National Party of Jan Slota, received 5.1 per cent or 9 seats. Another coalition member, the party of former authoritarian Premier Vladimir Meciar was below the 5-per cent threshold needed to win parliamentary representation, marking a possible end for a political career of a former leader who led Slovakia into isolation in the 1990s.
The result is a blow for Fico, who has promised to maintain the welfare state in contrast to the budget-cutting being implemented in several other European countries. But he called the result an "absolute success" that gives him a right to get a chance by President Ivan Gasparovic to form a government.
"If we fail, we will respect a right-wing government, and become a tough opposition."
The major opposition Slovak Democratic and Christian Union, whose free-market reforms earned the country NATO and EU membership, was second with 15.4 per cent, or 28 seats.
Iveta Radicova, its election leader, said talks with the other three parties on forming a center-right coalition will start later Sunday. If they succeed, she has a chance to become the first woman in the post of prime minister.
"The citizens of Slovakia have voted for responsibility," Radicova said.
The opposition pledged to improve the business environment, create new jobs, reduce the deficit and fight corruption. Turnout was 58.8 per cent, higher than than the record low of 54.7 per cent four years ago although some parts of the country have been recovering from a flooding and Slovakia has been hit by a wave of hot weather.
Despite the country's ballooning budget deficit, the campaign was dominated by debate over a new Hungarian citizenship law, not the economy.
Slota, who is known for derogatory comments about Hungarians and other Slovak leaders, condemned last month's move by Hungary to make it easier for ethnic Hungarians in neighboring countries, including 520,000 in Slovakia to acquire Hungarian citizenship. Calling dual citizenship a security risk, Slovakia responded with a law allowing authorities to strip Slovak citizenship from those who become Hungarian citizens.
"It's a very bad result for Slovakia," Slota commented. The country, recovering from an economic downturn, has other pressing problems, analysts said.
Since joining the euro zone in 2009, the budget deficit has ballooned.
The country's debt, at 41 per cent of gross domestic product, is still well below the EU's prescribed 60 per cent. But analysts have warned that a new government may not be able to meet the 2010 budget deficit target of 5.5 per cent of GDP. The Association of Economic Analysts predicted this month the deficit could reach 7.4 per cent. The Institute of Economic and Social Studies, a think tank in Bratislava said the major parties have failed to provide concrete plans for necessary austerity measures.
Fico, considered a populist leader, has rejected cutting welfare benefits, as other EU countries, including Britain, have been doing to avert a debt crisis like that of Greece. Instead, he pledged to fight tax evasion and support economic growth.
Fico was a vocal opponent of the U.S.-led war in Iraq and withdrew Slovak troops. He also said he would not allow any part of the Obama administration's revamped U.S. missile shield planned for Europe to be based in Slovakia.