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Preliminary results: Center-right opposition is leading in Slovak parliamentary election

BRATISLAVA, Slovakia (AP) — Preliminary results show the center-right opposition is slightly leading in a parliamentary election in Slovakia.

The Statistics Office says the governing left-leaning party of Prime Minister Robert Fico is heading for a victory with 36.7 percent of the vote, or 65 seats in the 150-seat Parliament with votes from a half of the 5,929 polling stations counted early Sunday.

But the opposition parties could form a ruling coalition with an ethnic Hungarian party with a majority of 76 seats.

Fico's junior coalition partner, the ultranationalists, received 6.1 percent or 9 seats. Another coalition member, the party of former authoritarian Premier Vladimir Meciar was below the 5-percent threshold needed to win parliamentary representation.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

BRATISLAVA, Slovakia (AP) — An exit poll suggests that the center-right opposition appears to be winning a parliamentary election in Slovakia.

The poll Saturday indicated that the governing, left-leaning party of Prime Minister Robert Fico may finish first but that three center-right parties might be able to form a governing coalition with the support of two ethnic Hungarian parties.

Fico's party was projected to get 29.7 percent of Saturday's vote, or 51 seats in the 150-seat Parliament, while the three opposition parties would combine for 38.7 percent, or 67 seats.

Fico's junior coalition partner, the ultranationalist Slovak National Party of Jan Slota, would get 6.1 percent or 10 seats, and another coalition member, the party of former authoritarian Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar, who led the country into isolation in the 1990s, would not clear the five-percent threshold needed to win parliamentary representation.

Two small ethnic Hungarians parties would win 6.7 and 6.3 percent and were projected at 11 seats each.

The poll was conducted by the Focus agency for the TA3 news television.

Another exit poll by the MVK agency for the private Markiza television had similar results.

If confirmed by the official results, the vote is a blow for Fico, who has promised to maintain the welfare state in contrast to the budget-cutting being implemented in several other European countries.

Fico said he was prepared to be in opposition if he fails.

Iveta Radicova, the election leader of the major opposition Slovak Democratic and Christian Union, whose free-market reforms earned the country NATO and EU membership, was cautious and said it was too soon to celebrate.

The opposition pledged to improve the business environment, create new jobs, reduce the deficit and fight corruption.

It was not immediately clear if turnout would be higher than the record low of 54.7 percent four years ago. Some parts of the country have been recovering from flooding last week, and Slovakia has been hit by a wave of hot weather.

Despite the country's ballooning budget deficit, the campaign was dominated by debate over a new Hungarian citizenship law, not the economy.

Slota, who is known for derogatory comments about Hungarians and other Slovak leaders, condemned last month's move by Hungary to make it easier for ethnic Hungarians in neighboring countries to acquire Hungarian citizenship.

Many ethnic Hungarians, including 520,000 in Slovakia, live in areas that were part of Hungary until the end of World War I.

Calling dual citizenship a security risk, Slovakia responded with a law allowing authorities to strip Slovak citizenship from those who become Hungarian citizens.

"It's a very bad result for Slovakia," Slota commented.

But the country, recovering from an economic downturn, has other pressing problems, analysts said.

Since joining the euro zone in 2009, the budget deficit has ballooned.

The country's debt, at 41 percent of gross domestic product, is still well below the EU's prescribed 60 percent. But analysts have warned that a new government may not be able to meet the 2010 budget deficit target of 5.5 percent of GDP.

The Association of Economic Analysts predicted this month the deficit could reach 7.4 percent.

The Institute of Economic and Social Studies, a think tank in Bratislava said the major parties have failed to provide concrete plans for necessary austerity measures.

Fico, considered a populist leader, has rejected cutting welfare benefits, as other EU countries, including Britain, have been doing to avert a debt crisis like that of Greece.

Instead, Fico pledged to fight tax evasion and support economic growth.

He was a vocal opponent of the U.S.-led war in Iraq and withdrew Slovak troops. He also said he would not allow any part of the Obama administration's revamped U.S. missile shield planned for Europe to be based in Slovakia.

Parliament's 150 seats are at stake in the country of 5.4 million, with 18 parties in the running.

One of the first tasks for the new parliament will be to vote on Slovakia's euro800 million share of the euro110 billion EU bailout plan for Greece.

But Radicova strictly opposes the loan, saying it was not right for the poor help the rich.