Slovakia Prime Minister Robert Fico
© Associated Press
Slovakia's likely new Prime Minister, Robert Fico, has consistently campaigned to reduce support to Ukraine in its defence against Russia
A populist former prime minister and his leftist party have won parliamentary elections in Slovakia, staging a political comeback after campaigning on a pro-Russian and anti-American message, according to almost complete results.

With results from 99.2% of some 6,000 polling stations counted by the Slovak Statistics Office early on Sunday, former prime minister Robert Fico and the leftist Smer (Direction) party led with 23.3% of the votes.

The populist served as prime minister between 2006 and 2010 and again from 2012 to 2018.

The election on Saturday was a test for the small eastern European country's support for neighbouring Ukraine in its war with Russia, and Fico's win could strain a fragile unity in the European Union and NATO.

Fico, 59, vowed to withdraw Slovakia's military support for Ukraine against Russia's invasion if he returned to high office.

The country of 5.5 million people, formed in 1993 following the break-up of Czechoslovakia, has been a staunch supporter of Ukraine since Russia invaded last February, donating arms and opening the borders for refugees fleeing the war.

A liberal, pro-West newcomer, the Progressive Slovakia party, was a distant second, with 17% of the votes. The left-wing Hlas (Voice) party, led by Mr Fico's former deputy in Smer, Peter Pellegrini, was in third with 15%.

Mr Pellegrini parted ways with Mr Fico after Smer lost the previous election in 2020, but their possible reunion would boost Mr Fico's chances to form a government.

Another potential coalition partner, the ultranationalist Slovak National Party, a clear pro-Russian group, received 5.7%.

Despite Smer winning the highest proportion of votes, no party won a majority of seats, so a coalition government will need to be formed.

In Slovakia, the president traditionally asks an election's winner to try to form a government, so Fico is likely to become prime minister again.

Those three parties would have a parliamentary majority if they joined forces in a coalition government.

Fico opposes EU sanctions on Russia, has questioned whether Ukraine can force out the invading Russian troops and wants to block Ukraine from joining NATO. He proposes that instead of sending arms to Kyiv, the EU and the US should use their influence to force Russia and Ukraine to strike a compromise peace deal.

Fico's critics worry that his return to power could lead Slovakia to abandon its course in other ways, following the path of Hungary under Prime Minister Viktor Orban and to a lesser extent of Poland under the Law and Justice party.

Hungary has been sanctioned by the EU for alleged rule-of-law violations and corruption, while EU institutions say Poland has been on a slippery slope away from the EU's rule-of-law principles.

Fico has threatened to dismiss investigators from the National Criminal Agency and the special prosecutor who deals with the most serious crimes and corruption.

Hungary has also - uniquely among EU countries - maintained close relations with Moscow and argued against supplying arms to Ukraine or providing it with economic assistance.

Fico has consistently repeated Russian president Vladimir Putin's unsupported claim that the Ukrainian government runs a Nazi state from which ethnic Russians in the country's east needed protection.

Comment: Just had to slip that in, eh Daily Mail? You clearly missed this gem from 2014, as Ukraine was shelling the Donbass for not wanting to live under neonazis:
Azov Battalion fighters with NATO flag at left and Nazi flag at right
Azov Battalion fighters with NATO flag at left and Nazi flag at right

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is Jewish and lost relatives in the Holocaust. Known for foul-mouthed tirades against journalists, Fico also campaigned against immigration and LGBTQ+ rights.

The populist Ordinary People group, the conservative Christian Democrats and the pro-business Freedom and Solidarity also won seats in parliament.