March 9, 2016 / 10:55 AM / in 2 years

Slovak PM Fico suffers early blow to coalition hopes

BRATISLAVA (Reuters) - Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico’s efforts to form a new government got off to a difficult start on Wednesday as two parties that were seen as likely coalition partners gave him the cold shoulder.

Slovakia's Prime Minister and leader of Smer party Robert Fico leaves after a live broadcast of a debate after the country's parliamentary election, in Bratislava, Slovakia, March 6, 2016. REUTERS/David W Cerny

Fico said earlier that President Andrej Kiska had given him until March 18 to form a government following a weekend election in which his center-left Smer party won the most votes but lost its parliamentary majority.

Smer needs to find at least two and probably three coalition partners among the eight parties that won parliamentary seats. If it fails to do so, a group of up to six right-wing parties led by the economically liberal Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) may be given the chance to form a government.

Fico met the leader of the conservative and nationalist Slovak National Party (SNS) on Wednesday and said they had found common ground. But the centrist Siet (Net) party and Most-Hid (Bridge), which has support among the Hungarian minority, refused even a meeting.

“There are two alternatives. Slovakia will continue to fall deeper into the chaos or foundations for a meaningful and stable government will be laid,” Fico said after meeting SNS chiefs.

“Cooperation of Smer and SNS will be the basis of a stable government.”

Slovakia will take over the rotating presidency of the European Union in the second half of the year, giving it a stronger voice on issues such as Europe’s migration crisis and possibly a referendum vote by Britons to leave the EU.

ANTI-IMMIGRATION STANCE

Fico’s Smer and the SaS share a tough stance on halting the flow of migrants to Europe from war-torn Syria and beyond, and refuse any open-door policy or mandatory resettlement of refugees to Slovakia.

SaS chief Richard Sulik has started informal talks with others and said on Tuesday he believed he could find 87 seats of the total 150 in the parliament.

But such a coalition could be unstable, and mutual animosities between some parties would need to be overcome for it to even be possible.

Sulik would have to reconcile Most-Hid, which seeks a more prominent role for Hungarian minority, with the SNS, which has campaigned against giving them more rights. Its founder threatened at a 1999 rally to wipe out Budapest with tanks.

The SNS has significantly toned down its image under its current leader Andrej Danko and Most-Hid said on Monday it could take part in talks involving the party.

SNS also frowns on Sulik’s proposals to legalize civil unions for same-sex couples, euthanasia and marijuana.

Most potential members of a center-right coalition are likely to agree on lowering income and corporate taxes, a key issue for Sulik, an economist who authored a liberal tax reform in 2004 that was credited with attracting foreign investors to Slovakia and spurring growth.

The new government will be under pressure to improve healthcare and schooling and tackle corruption, issues blamed for voters’ rejection of Smer even though economic growth has remained strong during Fico’s time in office.

Reporting by Tatiana Jancarikova; Writing by Jan Lopatka; Editing by Catherine Evans

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