Pro-West diplomat to face left-winger for Slovakia presidency

Presidential candidate Peter Pellegrini smiles before casting his vote during the first round of the presidential election in Bratislava, Slovakia,  March 23, 2024.
Presidential candidate Peter Pellegrini smiles before casting his vote during the first round of the presidential election in Bratislava, Slovakia, March 23, 2024. Copyright AP
By Euronews with AP
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Current head of state Zuzana Čaputová - the first woman to hold the post - is not running for a second term.

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Slovaks have voted for a pro-Western career diplomat over a close ally of the country's populist leader Robert Fico in the first round of a presidential election. 

Former Foreign Minister Ivan Korčok bagged 42.13% of the votes late Sunday, with nearly all polling stations counted. Peter Pellegrini was in second with 37.28%.

However, because no candidate won an outright majority, the two will face off in a second round on 6 April. 

The winner will replace Zuzana Čaputová, Slovakia's first-ever female president and a staunch backer of neighbouring Ukraine.

Korčok, who firmly supports his country's membership in the EU and NATO, said the results were "encouraging", but added that "we have to do more to win the runoff." 

His populist rival Pellegrini was considered the favourite to win the race, with opinion polls suggesting he would get the most votes. 

Polls closed at 9 p.m. local time on Saturday. 

The role of the president in Slovakia is largely seen as ceremonial, though it is a strategic post.

Presidential candidate Peter Pellegrini, who currently serves as Parliament's speaker, casts his vote during the first round of the presidential election.
Presidential candidate Peter Pellegrini, who currently serves as Parliament's speaker, casts his vote during the first round of the presidential election.AP

Pellegrini, who favours a strong state, heads the left-wing Hlas party that finished third in the 30 September parliamentary elections.

His party joined a ruling coalition with Fico’s leftist Smer party and the ultranationalist Slovak National Party.

The new government immediately halted arms deliveries to Ukraine.

Pellegrini said Saturday in Bratislava that Slovakia's membership in the European Union and NATO hasn't been questioned.

“That we talk about a more sovereign voice of Slovakia or about a sovereign foreign policy doesn't necessarily mean that we change the basic direction of our foreign policy,” he said.

However, critics worry Slovakia under Fico will abandon its pro-Western course and follow the direction of Hungary under populist Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

Pro-western diplomat Korčok, is his main rival to become Slovakia's sixth president since it gained independence in 1993 after Czechoslovakia split in two.

“From my point of view, I did all I could," Korčok said Saturday after casting the ballot in the town of Senec near the capital Bratislava. “It's up to the people to consider carefully what the future head of state will look like.”

Korčok had also served as Slovakia's ambassador to the United States and Germany.

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