Slovak PM says he will try to form coalition after opposition gets majority in vote

BRATISLAVA, Slovakia (AP) — Slovakia's prime minister said Sunday he would try to put together a governing coalition even after voters handed him a setback by giving the center-right opposition a majority.

The results of Saturday's election were a blow to Robert Fico's party, which had promised to maintain the country's welfare state even as other European countries hack their budgets to deal with the economic crisis.

Though his party took the largest share of the vote, the three opposition parties, together with an ethnic Hungarian party, have a majority with 79 seats in the 150-seat parliament and would form a ruling coalition if Fico fails to win one of them over. The leaders of the four parties have so far rejected his efforts.

Fico, nonetheless, called the result an "absolute success" that gives him the right to try to form a government because of his party's first-place finish.

"I'm absolutely satisfied with the result," Fico said. "We had a right to be given a chance to form a government. It's our duty to seek (it)," he said.

"If we fail, we will respect a right-wing government, and become a tough opposition," he said.

The Statistics Office said Fico's Smer-Social Democracy took 34.8 percent of the vote, or 62 seats with all votes counted Sunday.

Fico's junior coalition partner, the ultranationalist Slovak National Party of Jan Slota, received 5.1 percent, or 9 seats. But, another coalition member, the party of former authoritarian Premier Vladimir Meciar was below the 5-percent threshold needed to win parliamentary representation, marking a possible end for a political career of a former leader who led Slovakia into isolation in the 1990s.

President Ivan Gasparovic, who appoints the prime minister, said he respected the election result and will ask Fico, as the leader of the strongest party, to lead efforts to create a new government.

"It's a tradition I would like to stick to," Gasparovic said. He said he will meet Fico in a day or two but gave no more details.

The major opposition Slovak Democratic and Christian Union, whose free-market reforms earned the country NATO and EU membership, was in second place with 15.4 percent, or 28 seats.

Iveta Radicova, its election leader, said talks with the other three parties on forming a center-right coalition will start later Sunday. If they succeed, she has a chance to become the first woman in the post of prime minister.

"The citizens of Slovakia have voted for responsibility," Radicova said.

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

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, including 520,000 in Slovakia to acquire Hungarian citizenship.

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.

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.

Fico 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.