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European Union elections: Slovaks, others vote under shadow of an assassination attempt

WorldEuropean Union elections: Slovaks, others vote under shadow of an assassination attempt

Voters in Slovakia, Italy and other European Union nations are casting their ballots Saturday on the third day of elections for the European Parliament, with populist and far-right parties looking to make gains across the 27-member bloc.

In Slovakia, the election was overshadowed by an attempt to assassinate populist Prime Minister Robert Fico on May 15, sending shock waves through the nation of 5.4 million and reverberating throughout Europe. Analysts say the attack could boost the chances of the prime minister’s leftist Smer (Direction) party, the senior partner in the governing coalition, to win the vote.

Fico, who took office last fall after campaigning on a pro-Russian and anti-American platform, has been recovering from multiple wounds after being shot in the abdomen as he greeted supporters in the town of Handlova.

He recovered in time to address the nation in a pre-recorded video, his first public statement since the attack, just hours before the start of the pre-election silence period on Wednesday.

Slovakia’s Prime Minister Robert Fico casts his vote in a hospital in Bratislava, Slovakia, on Saturday. Photo: Robert Fico via Facebook/Handout via Reuters

Although Fico did not talk directly about the vote, he attacked the EU, suggesting he was a victim because of his views that differ sharply from the European mainstream.

Fico strongly opposes support for Ukraine in its war against Russia’s full-scale invasion. He ended Slovakia’s military aid to Ukraine after his coalition government was sworn in on October 25. He also opposes EU sanctions on Russia and wants to block Ukraine from joining Nato.

Mainstream media, non-governmental organisations and the liberal opposition were also to blame for the assassination attempt, according to Fico, an allegation repeated by politicians in his governing coalition.

Soňa Szomolányi, a political-science professor at Comenius University in Bratislava, said the timing of Fico’s message was “no coincidence”.

“It only confirms that the ruling coalition has been using the assassination [attempt] expediently and apparently effectively,” Szomolányi said. As a result, “a mobilisation of the supporters of Smer [at the election] can be expected,” she said.

After voting in a hospital in Bratislava on Saturday, Fico said on his Facebook this election was important because “it is necessary to vote for MEPs who will support peace initiatives and not the continuation of war”.

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni greets supporters from the stage at the end of a campaign meeting of Italian far-right party “Fratelli d’Italia” (Brothers of Italy) for the European elections, on June 1 in Rome. Photo: AFP

In Italy, citizens aged 18 and above are casting ballots over two days to fill 76 European parliamentary seats, starting Saturday.

Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni is expected to be the big winner, reflecting her far-right Brothers of Italy’s growth, mostly at the expense of her coalition partners, the populist, anti-migrant League and the centre-right Forza Italia. While the vote is not expected to affect the balance in the governing coalition, the result could expand Meloni’s influence in the EU, as European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has not ruled out a coalition with her group.

Capitalising on her popularity, Meloni is running as the preferential candidate, even though she has no intention of taking a European parliamentary seat.

Voters in Latvia, Malta and the Czech Republic were also casting ballots on Saturday. Final results will not be released until Sunday night, once every country has voted. The main voting day is Sunday, with citizens in 20 European countries, including Germany, France and Poland, casting their ballots for the 720-seat European Parliament.

Seats are allocated based on population, ranging from six in Malta or Luxembourg to 96 in Germany.

People vote at a polling station in a school during the European parliamentary elections in Bratislava, Slovakia, on Saturday. Photo: Reuters

In Slovakia, Fico’s Smer party is in a close race against the main opposition Progressive Slovakia, a pro-Western liberal party.

Fico’s government has made efforts to overhaul public broadcasting – a move critics said would give the government full control of public television and radio.

That, along with his plans to amend the penal code to eliminate a special anti-graft prosecutor, has led opponents to worry that he would lead Slovakia down a more autocratic path, following the direction of neighbouring Hungary under populist Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

Thousands have repeatedly rallied in the capital and across Slovakia to protest against Fico’s policies.

Aneta Világi, an analyst from Comenius University, said that Smer’s possible victory “will be interpreted by the coalition parties as evidence that a majority of voters still agree with the direction they’re offering to the country”.

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