Slovak leftist Fico sweeps to election victory

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 11, 2012 1:44 AM
Slovak leftist Fico sweeps to election victory

By Martin Santa and Jan Lopatka

BRATISLAVA (Reuters) - Slovakia's leftist leader Robert Fico on Sunday assured Brussels he was a partner to rely on after a landslide election victory that will oust a government that collapsed over whether to back euro zone bailouts.

A triumphant Fico said his centre-left Smer had won an outright majority in parliament, in line with near complete results, but said he was ready to take on a coalition partner if any of the other parties were ready to support his agenda.

A government led by the pro-European, 47-year-old lawyer would please Slovakia's euro zone partners, who were upset by the outgoing centre-right coalition's refusal to contribute to the first bailout of Greece and the delaying of the rescue fund.

"The European Union can lean on Smer because we realize that Slovakia, as a small country living in Europe and wanting to live in Europe ... desires to maintain the euro zone and the euro as a strong European currency," Fico said at his party headquarters, to the cheers and applause of supporters.

Results from 97.9 percent of districts showed Smer took 44.8 percent of the vote on Saturday, which would give it 84 seats in the 150-seat parliament.

Fico's sweeping victory knocked his reformist rival Mikulas Dzurinda's centre-right SDKU out of power after the SDKU-led coalition fell apart in October after less than two years.

Damaged by allegations of graft, Dzurinda's party won just 5.9 percent, according to the partial results, just over a third of what it won in the last election in 2010. But it seemed set to avoid being knocked out of parliament altogether.

Fico's landslide is an unprecedented victory for any single party in Slovakia's 19-year independent history, and reminds of a sweeping win by the centre-right Fidesz party of Viktor Orban against discredited left in neighboring Hungary in 2010.

Final results were expected to be released later on Sunday.


The unrivalled leader of his centre-left party, Fico says he plans to use tax hikes to maintain welfare and cut the budget deficit, and continue the outgoing cabinet's effort to protect the country's sovereign credit ratings.

The country of 5.4 million people, which has maintained more investor confidence than other periphery euro zone states, has budget deficit targets of 4.6 percent of gross domestic product this year and 3 percent in 2013.

"We are accepting this commitment, we realize how important it is to have healthy public finances," Fico said, as he claimed victory after singing Slovakian folk songs earlier in the night.

Fico, who served one term as the central European country's prime minister in 2006-2010 has pledged to dump Dzurinda's flagship reform - a 19 percent flat income tax - and reel in more from the rich, banks and other firms.

His plans involve almost doubling a special tax on bank deposits to 0.7 percent, raising corporate tax to 22 percent, from 19 percent now, and raising income tax for people earning over 33,000 euros per year.

"We are against privatizations, we are for better legal protection for employees, we are for large public investments. This is our programme and we will strive to achieve it," Fico told reporters after the vote.

He has criticized labor reforms by the previous government that have made it easier to hire and fire workers, striking a chord among voters afraid of job insecurity in the euro zone's second-poorest country, where 13.7 percent are out of a job.

The minimum Slovak monthly salary is just 327 euros ($430), half of the minimum pay in crisis-hit Greece.

When last in power, Fico softened but did not dismantle the main parts of Dzurinda's reforms, and is not expected to adopt unorthodox economic policies such as those that angered foreign investors in Hungary after Orban took over.

Fico, a former Communist Party member under Soviet-era Czechoslovakia in the 1980s who has praised socialist-era welfare policies, employed mildly nationalistic rhetoric against Hungary when in power and pushed through a media law that human rights groups said infringed press freedom.

At the heart of the SDKU rout lies the leaking of a secret service file in December appearing to detail bugged conversations between politicians and businessmen in which they allegedly discuss kickbacks in return for the sale of public companies in the mid-2000s.

Details of the file, codenamed "Gorilla", have drawn tens of thousands of outraged Slovaks onto the streets in the past month in a rare display of public anger.

Dzurinda and other SDKU officials have denied corruption.

(Writing by Jan Lopatka; Editing by Alison Williams)