Friday, May 24, 2024

Russia-friendly populist Pellegrini elected Slovak president

(BBC News) Populist Peter Pellegrini has been elected president of Slovakia, succeeding the liberal Zuzana Caputova.

Pellegrini, 48, defeated the pro-western Ivan Korčok, a former diplomat, with 53% of the vote.

A former prime minister, he is an ally of Prime Minister Robert Fico, and shares the PM’s dovish attitude toward Russia.

Fico and his allies now control Slovakia’s parliament, government, and soon the president’s office.

Slovakia had been one of Ukraine’s staunchest allies before Fico came to power in October on a pledge to halt supplies of Slovak Army military stocks to Kyiv. With Pellegrini replacing Caputova, Ukraine has definitively lost a voice of support in an EU and NATO capital.

Fico has called for an end to western military support for Ukraine, an immediate ceasefire, and peace talks with Moscow. He said recently President Vladimir Putin had been “unfairly demonized” and argued admitting Ukraine to NATO would mark the beginning of a third world war.

Pellegrini’s campaign echoed some of that Moscow-friendly rhetoric, accusing Korčok of being a warmonger who would send Slovak soldiers to fight in Ukraine— a constitutional power the president does not have.

On Sunday, Pellegrini vowed “to ensure that Slovakia remains on the side of peace and not on the side of war.”

“You don’t have to worry that the Presidential Palace, as it has been for the last 10 years, will become a centre of oppositional, opportunistic power that will harm the government, that will harm the state abroad and will rejoice in the failures of the Slovak government,” he said.

Once Caputova steps down in June, there will no longer be any high-level official in Slovakia — a country which barely a year ago donated its entire fleet of MiG-29 aircraft to Ukraine — who unequivocally backs Kyiv’s effort to defend its territory with force.

Korčok expressed his anger at Pellegrini’s campaign tactics, saying it was fear that decided the outcome of the election, and “that fear was spread by those who are hidden in state positions.”

He said of the result: “It turns out that it is possible to become President of the Slovak Republic not only by spreading hatred, whipping up passions and pushing people to the barricades, but also by painting the opposite number, that is to say, me, as a candidate of war. I will not forget this.”

The liberal pro-western opposition also accuses Pellegrini — as head of the coalition Hlas party and chairman of parliament — of remaining silent as Fico took a wrecking ball to Slovakia’s criminal justice system, notably abolishing the Special Prosecutor’s Office, which was set up 20 years ago to probe serious corruption and economic crime.

It had investigated a number of senior officials in Fico’s Smer party, and had been overseeing the prosecution of those believed to be responsible for the murder of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kusnirova in 2018.

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