Leftist opposition wins big in Slovakia election

Leftist opposition wins big in Slovakia election

BRATISLAVA - The Associated Press
Leftist opposition wins big in Slovakia election

Robert Fico, chairman of the SMER-Social Democracy party smiles after the first exit polls for Slovakia's early general elections were announced. AP photo

A leftist opposition led by one of the few leading politicians in Slovakia to escape voter anger over a major corruption scandal has been propelled back to power in an early parliamentary election, according to almost complete results today.

Smer-Social Democracy of former Prime Minister Robert Fico is a clear winner with 44.8 percent of the vote, or 84 seats in the 150-seat Parliament, with the votes from 5,842 of the 5,956 polling stations counted by the Statistics Office earlier in the day.

The result allows Fico to govern alone, which has not happened to anyone since the country was created as an independent state following the split of Czechoslovakia in 1993.

Fico, who is considered a populist leader, is pledging to maintain a welfare state, increase corporate tax and hike income tax for the highest earners.

"We succeeded with what we offered as an alternative," Fico said early Sunday. "We've achieved a result that is a pleasant surprise for us, to be honest." The outgoing center-right, four-party coalition combines for just 50 seats as it faced voter anger over a major corruption scandal. The new Ordinary People party that campaigned on an anti-corruption ticket won 16 seats.

The ultranationalist Slovak National Party, known for derogatory comments about ethnic Hungarians, Roma and political opponents, ended below the 5-percent threshold needed to win parliamentary representation.

Turnout was surprisingly high at 58.98 percent after analysts predicted a record low turnout, as voters were expected to register their anger over allegations that a private financial group bribed government and opposition politicians in 2005-06 to win lucrative privatization deals.

The "Gorilla" files - posted online by an anonymous source in December and said to be based on wiretaps - have rocked Slovak politics. One former economy minister is said to have received the equivalent of 10 million euros for his assistance.

Outgoing Prime Minister Iveta Radicova's Slovak Democratic and Christian Union was hard hit by the allegations. Radicova's party was in power in 2005-06 and the then-prime minister, Mikulas Dzurinda, is now the foreign minister and party chairman. The party won 5.9 percent of the vote, despite overseeing an economic boom driven by solid growth, strong exports and the implementation of much-needed pension reforms. It won 15.4 percent at the 2010 ballot.

"It's clear," Dzurinda said. "Gorilla is to blame." Disappointed by her government's collapse, Radicova is quitting politics and plans to lecture at Britain's Oxford University. She was the first female prime minister in Slovakia.

Fico, whose party was in power in 2006-10, has been implicated in the corruption allegations, but he says he is innocent because he couldn't have influenced any decisions since he was part of the opposition.

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.

Known for foul-mouthed tirades against journalists, Fico's election promises included a plan to build a new national soccer stadium and not to increase the pension age for women because they "don't deserve it." He is also against further privatization of state assets and opposes austerity measures, such as a value-added tax increase, that would help keep the public finances healthy.

Analysts warned that Fico may not be ready to take the necessary steps to lower a high unemployment rate of more than 13 percent and reduce the deficit to 3 percent by 2013 as required after EU nations agreed on a deal to stop overspending in the 17 countries that use the euro.

Fico pledged Sunday he was ready to meet the country's obligations: "We realize how important it is to have healthy public finances." Fico, who led Slovakia to the euro zone in 2009, said his government will support European measures to stop the debt crisis and save the euro.

In October, Slovakia dramatically rejected Europe's expanded bailout fund and the government fell in a confidence vote, triggering this weekend's elections.

The small nation of 5.4 million people was accused of undermining the entire eurozone with its brinkmanship. Parliament eventually approved the expanded EU fund after Fico's party voted "yes" in exchange for early elections.