Slovak leader begins struggle to keep power after majority lost

epa05197298 Slovakian Prime Minister and Chairman of Direction - Social Democracy (SMER) party, Robert Fico answers media questions after a TV interview in Bratislava, Slovakia, 06 March 2016. Prime Minister Robert Fico's ruling Social Democrats suffered heavy losses in the weekend's general election, according to official preliminary results announced 06 March, but they still remain the largest party.  EPA/CHRISTIAN BRUNA


Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico started coalition talks after Saturday’s inconclusive elections, which cost him his majority in parliament, saw two nationalist groups win seats in the assembly, and raised the potential of a repeat vote.
Fico’s Smer party won 28.3 percent, below the 44 percent he scored in a 2012 ballot. Voters elected seven other parties into the 150-seat parliament, giving a fifth of the mandates to nationalist groups that pledged, like Fico, to prevent refugees from entering the country of 5.4 million people.
Informal coalition talks were already under way Sunday as President Andrej Kiska was expected to give the 51-year-old premier the first chance to try to form a
With several parties refusing to rule with him, Fico will struggle to create a majority coalition in the euro-area state. If he fails, the baton may then fall to the second-place SaS party, whose pro-business leader Richard Sulik fought against aid to Greece during that country’s debt crisis.
Forming any government will be tricky as the parties range from nationalists to liberals. Bickering among potential coalition partners broke out on Sunday during a live television debate. “No matter what coalition will be built, it will be highly unstable,” Judy Dempsey, a senior associate at Carnegie Europe in Berlin, said by phone on Sunday. “The good news is that Fico didn’t get the majority. The bad news is that it completely fractures Slovak politics.”
The election result also serves as a warning to European leaders who risk stoking nationalist fervor as they rail against migrants and the ills of the European Union.
Fico’s anti-refugee campaign—he has joined neighbors Poland and Hungary in denouncing a EU plan to redistribute refugees in the bloc—ignored public discontent over underfunded public services while opening the door to more extreme versions of the message.
Migrants, along with the UK’s potential “Brexit” and Greece’s economic woes, will dominate Slovakia’s stint at the EU’s rotating president that starts in July.

Nationalists Surge
“If any country in the EU believes it can put up walls and lock itself out from the huge instability around Europe, it’s deluding itself and its population,” Dempsey said.
Despite having presided over booming growth, which accelerated to 4.2 percent in the fourth quarter from a year earlier, Fico’s support fell during his four years in power.
While his main focus remained on migrants and increasing benefit spending, he faced strikes from teachers and health workers, who complained his administration had left them behind.
The election’s biggest surprise was the rise of the Slovak National Party and the far-right People’s Party, led by Marian Kotleba, a former high-school teacher who’s been indicted for inciting racial hatred. While the charges have been dropped, other parties have labeled him as an unacceptable coalition partner.

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