Slovakia Presidential Election 2024: What You Need to Know

The Slovak presidency is a largely ceremonial post but can play an important role when, as has been the case for the last five months, the president and prime minister represent opposing political camps.

The outgoing president, Zuzana Caputova, an outspoken liberal, has used her limited powers and the bully pulpit to resist the agenda of Prime Minister Robert Fico, a pugnacious veteran politician who returned to power in October after years in the political wilderness. He resigned in disgrace as prime minister in 2018 amid a swirl of corruption accusations after the murder of an investigative journalist who had been looking into government graft.

Mr. Fico, who since he returned to power has often presented the United States, not Russia, as the main threat to European security, wants to reverse Slovakia’s previously robust support for Ukraine. He also seeks to overhaul the judicial systems so as to limit its ability to prosecute corruption. Ms. Caputova opposes both these goals and has delayed legislation relating to the judiciary by sending it for constitutional review.

The front-runner to replace Ms. Caputova, according to opinion polls, is Peter Pellegrini, a former close ally and sometime rival of Mr. Fico. A victory for Mr. Pellegrini would be likely to free the government’s hands to weaken the judiciary and to take a more combative stand within the European Union over policy toward Ukraine. Slovakia, breaking ranks with E.U. policy, last week sent its foreign minister to join his Hungarian counterpart for a meeting in Turkey with Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov.

But Mr. Fico, unlike Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary, has so far not tried to block E.U. assistance to Ukraine and has mostly avoided siding openly with Hungary against far bigger and more powerful European countries. (Slovakia’s population is less than 5.5 million.) There is also a history of bad blood between Slovak nationalists, like Mr. Fico, and Mr. Orban over what they see as Hungary’s meddling in the affairs of Slovakia’s large ethnic Hungarian minority.

There are 11 candidates competing in the March 23 vote, which is likely to go to a runoff on April 6, as nobody is expected to receive a majority in the first round.

The crowded field, dominated by nationalists, includes a far-right xenophobe, Marian Kotleba, and the former speaker of Parliament Andrej Danko, who is a fervent admirer of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia. Representing the liberal camp is a former foreign minister, Ivan Korcok, a pro-Western career diplomat who has served as ambassador to the United States and often speaks in favor of supporting Ukraine.

Opinion polls give Mr. Pellegrini and Mr. Korcok each between 35 percent and 40 percent of the vote, far ahead of all the others but not enough to avoid a runoff. Victory for Mr. Pellegrini would remove a brake on Mr. Fico’s ambitions, while a win for Mr. Korcok would most likely lead to a replay of the current standoff between the government and the president.

The first-round results, showing at least whether any single candidate has secured a majority and which two candidates will face off in a likely second round, should be clear late on election day. The timing of runoff results will depend on how close the race is.

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