Slovaks choose between pro-Russian ex-PM Fico and pro-Western liberals
Slovaks were voting on Saturday in a parliamentary election closely fought between former leftist prime minister Robert Fico, who has pledged to end military aid for neighbouring Ukraine, and pro-Western liberals.
Final opinion polls showed the two parties in dead heat, with the winner expected to get the first chance to try and form a new government to replace a caretaker administration running the country of 5.5 million since May.
A government led by Fico would mean Slovakia joining Hungary as EU countries challenging the bloc's consensus on support for Ukraine, just as the European Union looks to keep unity in opposing Russia's invasion.
It would also add to a bloc of eastern ex-Communist states with governments publicly hostile to liberalism, along with Poland's nationalist PiS, which also faces an election next month, though Poland remains pro-Ukrainian.
A Progresivne Slovensko (Progressive Slovakia, PS) government would stay the course on foreign policy, keeping Slovakia's strong backing for Ukraine and putting the country in a pro-integration and liberal camp in the EU on issues such as majority voting to make the bloc more flexible, green policies and LGBT rights.
Neither Fico's SMER-SSD (Direction-Slovak Social Democracy) nor the PS, led by European Parliament Vice-Chairman Michal Simecka, is expected to win a majority, meaning the future government is likely to depend on results for over half a dozen smaller parties, from libertarians to far-right extremists.