Slovakians initiated voting on Saturday in an early parliamentary election, which would determine their future stance on supporting Ukraine.
Polling stations for the country’s 5.5 million people opened at 7 a.m. local time (0500 UTC) and will close at 10 p.m. (2000 UTC).
The left-wing Smer-SD of populist Robert Fico is to head off against the centrist Progressive Slovakia led by European Parliament Vice President Michal Simecka.
Fico served as prime minister from 2006 to 2010 and from 2012 to 2018.
Both parties were polling at around 20% shortly before voting went underway. The election winner will likely need the support of smaller parties to form government in the 150-seat parliament.
The center-left Hlas (Voice) party of Peter Pellegrini, who is a former member of Smer-SD and served as prime minister in 2018-2020, is polling in third place and could play a decisive role in coalition negotiations. He has not expressed a preference for cooperating with either of the larger parties but added party was closer to Fico.
While campaigning, Simecka vowed to rid Slovakia of “the past” and urged Slovaks to “elect the future.”
Fico profits by fueling ‘anger’ over pandemic and war
Electoral campaigns have been marked by sharp disagreement on foreign policy.
Fico has said if he returns to power Slovakia will continue supporting Ukraine but would not provide arms or ammunition. He has been called pro-Russian by opponents, a criticism he rejects.
A Progressive Slovakia government would maintain Bratislava’s current support for Kyiv.
“Fico benefitted from all that anxiety brought by the (coronavirus) pandemic and the (Ukraine) war, by the anger spreading in Slovakia in the past three years, and fueling that anger,” sociologist Michal Vasecka was cited by the Reuters news agency as saying.
Slovakia has the eurozone’s highest inflation rate of 10% and a financially depleted health system.
Fico has also gained support over dissatisfaction over a center-right coalition whose government collapsed last year, triggering early elections.