Slovakia, EU and NATO Country Split in Two, Elects Its President

Saturday, March 23, the first round of the bout between Moscow's more favorable Peter Pellegrini and pro-Ukrainian Ivan Korcok

4.33 million eligible voters were called to the polls in Slovakia on Saturday, March 23, for the first round of the presidential election. There are nine candidates in the race, but the real issue is between two: Peter Pellegrini, the current parliamentary president and leader of the Voice-Social Democracy (HLAS) party, and Ivan Korcok, an independent candidate and former foreign minister in 2020-2022. According to the latest opinion polls, 37% of Slovak voters would vote for Pellegrini, with Korcok trailing him by a step with a hypothetical 36% of the vote.

The two main favorites in the electoral race hold radically different positions, especially with regard to this Eastern European country’s international policy, which reflects a dangerous split in Slovak society, a European Union and NATO member country, more divided than ever over the issue of the armed conflict between Russia and Ukraine.

A victory for 48-year-old Pellegrini, who is close to Prime Minister Roberto Fico, would strengthen the government that has adamantly refused to provide money and other weapons to Ukraine and strongly insists on peace talks with Moscow. On the other hand, 59-year-old former Slovak diplomatic chief Korcok, like outgoing President Zuzana Caputova (she announced in June 2023 that she would not run for a second term, citing personal reasons), is cooperating with the West on pro-Ukrainian positions. In third place in the polls is 66-year-old Euroskeptic Stefan Harabin.

A victory for Pellegrini, whose party supports Prime Minister Fico’s policies, would be a political success for the government, allowing it to accelerate the implementation of the executive branch’s economic and social program. In Slovakia, the powers of the president are limited, but it is not just a decorative institution: the president appoints and dismisses the president of the Constitutional Court and can also refer laws to parliament.

Korcok, who presented himself as an independent candidate in the election, is actually backed by the main opposition party Progressive Slovakia (PS), the same party that nominated Caputova in 2019 and secured her victory. Just like outgoing president, Korcok defends the rule of law, and his supporters consider him Caputova’s “rightful heir.”

In addition to the three “favorite” candidates, six other names appeared on the ballot: former Prime Minister Igor Matovic, extreme right-wing leader Marian Kotleba, Hungarian minority representative Krisztian Forro, and Stefan Harabin, former justice minister and former president of the Supreme Court. It is highly likely that no candidate will win an absolute majority in the first round, which will be followed by a second round on April 6.