March 14, 2016 / 9:13 PM / 2 years ago

Slovak PM Fico says closer to forming coalition government

BRATISLAVA (Reuters) - Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico moved closer on Monday to breaking an election stalemate after agreeing a draft of priorities for a new governing program in coalition talks with rival parties.

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

Eight parties won seats in a March 5 election in which Fico’s leftist Smer party garnered the most votes but lost its parliamentary majority, leaving the two-time prime minister with a tough task in forming a coalition among opposition factions.

Fico’s odds improved over the weekend when centrist party Siet (Net) and another opposition party, Most-Hid (Bridge), agreed to negotiate with him, reversing their earlier opposition.

The change of heart came after the Slovak National Party (SNS) said it would not join talks on forming a broad right-wing coalition because of fears of instability.

Taking a break in talks that lasted nearly nine hours, Fico said he believed he could agree on the priorities of a new governing program by Tuesday.

“The result of today’s long and difficult negotiations is a draft of program priorities ... that would serve as basis for cooperation of the four parties in forming a government,” Fico told journalists on Monday.

“We focused on program overlaps because there are four parties with different views and values. Despite long and difficult negotiations we did not find issues or questions that divide us.”

Fico did not give more details.

The 51-year-old leader campaigned against allowing in any large numbers of migrants from the Middle East and beyond, and has sued the European Union over a decision to relocate hundreds of asylum-seekers to Slovakia.

Slovakia, a euro zone country, will hold the EU’s rotating presidency in the second half of the year, giving it a larger voice in formulating the bloc’s agenda, including on migration.

Fico’s Smer party lost 34 of its current 83 seats in the election as voters responded to opposition campaigning against corruption and shortcomings in healthcare and education, while taking the same tough line on immigration.

The four-party grouping would have 85 votes in the 150-seat parliament. However, three lawmakers from Siet already said they would leave the party in protest over teaming up with rival Smer, weakening Fico’s coalition even before it is officially formed.

Analysts say the budding coalition may clash in some areas but is likely to prove more stable than the alternative of a large center-right coalition that would have to pull in a few novice parties.

“It’s a crisis coalition but it would be much more stable during Slovakia’s EU presidency than a coalition of six center-right parties,” said Samuel Abraham, an analyst from the Bratislava International School of Liberal Arts.

Writing by Jason Hovet; Editing by Tom Brown

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