Slovakia's opposition leftist party won the most votes in a parliamentary elections, tapping into widespread public discontent over eight years of austere economic reforms, authorities said Sunday.
But with only 29 percent of the vote, Robert Fico's Smer-Socialist Democratic Party does not have a parliamentary majority and will have to govern in coalition. Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda's Slovak Democratic and Christian Movement party won 18 percent of the vote, the state-run Statistical Office announced after counting all the ballots.
Fico has not indicated his intentions for coalition partners, but one of the likely outcomes is an alliance with a Slovak nationalist party and a party loyal to former authoritarian Premier Vladimir Meciar.
A total of 25 parties competed in the vote, but only six met the 5 percent threshold necessary to enter parliament.
The election was a stinging rebuke to the center-right government of Dzurinda, whose belt-tightening brought the ex-communist nation into the European Union, yet slashed health care and social benefits to millions.
"We need a Slovakia with more solidarity and justice," Fico told cheering supporters at his party's headquarters in the capital, Bratislava.
The victory by Fico's party, however, threw into doubt Slovakia's quest to adopt the euro currency in 2009. The party has pledged to restore social benefits, improve the health sector and adjust the tax system to target rich industrialists and businesspeople who capitalized on Dzurinda's reforms.
"Our program received substantial backing in Slovakia. It means that, if we form the government, benefits from our country's development will not be restricted to a small group of people," Fico said.
The four other parties that won enough votes to enter parliament were the Ethnic Hungarian Coalition Party and nationalist Slovak National Party, which both won 11.7 percent; Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia took 8.8 percent and the Christian Democrats garnered 8.3 percent.
Meciar's heavy-handed rule in the 1990s thrust Slovakia into international isolation amid Western criticism that his leadership lacked commitment to democracy and the rule of law.
Another possible coalition could consist of the Social Democrats, the Hungarian Coalition Party and the Christian Democrats, whose departure from the government in January prompted Saturday's elections. The elections originally were scheduled for September.
Bela Bugar, the head of the Hungarian Coalition party, said he was ready to enter coalition talks with Fico, but also acknowledged that "it cannot be said that our party programs are compatible."
A grand coalition of Fico's and Dzurinda's parties remains an unlikely option, observers say.
Slovak President Ivan Gasparovic was expected to offer Fico the prime minister's mandate within days, Bratislava's private Markiza TV reported.
While Dzurinda has conceded defeat in the elections, he said that "the reforms should continue."
"We don't know whether Slovakia will (now) have the government capable of preserving and completing reforms ... and work in an European environment," Dzurinda told reporters.
Fico has also vowed to pull out some 100 Slovak de-miners from Iraq where they serve as part of the U.S.-led coalition.
Under the constitution, the new six-party Slovak parliament must convene within 30 days of the official announcement of election results. Slovakia's election commission is expected to certify the results later Sunday.