Slovak PM Fico leads election but no clear path to form majority

BRATISLAVA: Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico was poised to win Saturday's parliamentary election, partial results showed, but gains by opposition parties including far-right extremists will complicate formation of a new government.

Fico, a leftist whose anti-immigration views are in line with neighbours Poland and Hungary, took 29.1 percent of the vote, far ahead of others but less than around 35 percent predicted in opinion surveys, results from 54.2 percent of voting districts showed.

With euro zone member Slovakia due to take over the European Union's rotating presidency from July, giving it a bigger role in EU policy discussions over the bloc's migration crisis, the election is being watched closely in Brussels.

Fico bet on a combination of popular welfare measures such as free train rides for students and pensioners and his opposition to immigration even by refugees to secure a third term, after ruling from 2006-2010 and 2012-2016.

As head of the strongest party, Fico is expected to have a first try to form a cabinet, in line with tradition.

Fico, who dismisses multiculturalism as "a fiction", has pledged never to accept EU quotas on relocating refugees who have flooded into Greece and Italy from Syria and beyond.

Opponents portray him as an inefficient and unsavory populist who ignores the need to reform education and healthcare. However, most opposition parties in the predominantly Catholic country agree with Fico's hardline stance on Muslim immigrants.

Polls showed that up to nine groups may win seats in the new parliament. A strong showing by half a dozen centre-right parties could give them a chance to form a broad but possibly unstable anti-Fico coalition, a repeat of the 2010 election.

Any centre-right coalition would include the libertarian Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) party, which held second place in the partial results with 10.6 percent of the vote. The party's refusal to provide guarantees for a bailout of Greece brought down the previous centre-right government in 2012.

SaS leader Richard Sulik said he would try to form a cabinet promoting free market policies if Fico fails to find a majority.

"You cannot live off welfare packages, EU subsidies, free train rides," Sulik said. "We have to allow those who are diligent and creative to create values, then we will have more jobs," he said.

A jubilant Sulik was reportedly treated at hospital after celebrating the early results. Local media said Sulik injured his hand when he, or one of his colleagues, chopped the cap off a champagne bottle with a sabre.

The partial results showed the far-right radical group of central Slovak Governor Marian Kotleba won 8.4 percent of the vote.

Kotleba has in the past sported uniforms reminiscent of the Nazi-era Slovak state, and was investigated, but not found guilty of, spreading hatred toward the Roma minority.

A new anti-immigration party of businessman Boris Kollar was also likely to get into parliament.

Final results were expected later on Sunday.