Slovakia Votes for New President; Populist Premier’s Ally Leads Polls

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Slovaks marched to the polls this Saturday, tasked with choosing a successor to Zuzana Čaputová, the nation’s inaugural female president and an unwavering supporter of Ukraine amidst the ongoing conflict with Russia. Čaputová isn’t running for a second term.

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Peter Pellegrini, a key confidant of Slovakia’s populist Prime Minister Robert Fico, is seen as the frontrunner in this contest for the largely symbolic presidential role. He’s at the top of the pack among nine hopefuls vying in the initial round of elections to become the sixth leader since Slovakia’s birth post the 1993 division of Czechoslovakia.

Polling stations will wrap up at 9pm GMT with the election’s outcome anticipated on Sunday.

Should there be no clear winner securing the majority—a likely scenario—the two with the most votes will head to a second round slated for April 6.

Pellegrini, aged 48, who advocates for a pronounced state presence, steers the left-leaning Hlas (Voice) party which clinched third place in the parliamentary elections on September 30. His party has formed a coalition with Fico’s leftist Smer (Direction) party and the far-right Slovak National Party, together they’ve put a stop to arms shipments to Ukraine.

His principal opponent is Ivan Korčok, 59, a seasoned diplomat with a pro-West stance.

“From my point of view, I did all I could,” stated Korčok on Saturday after casting his vote in Senec, not far from the capital, Bratislava. “It’s up to the people to consider carefully what the future head of state will look like.”

Korčok, who’s been both the ambassador to the United States and Germany, staunchly endorses Slovakia’s commitments to the European Union and NATO.

Most public polls are hinting at a tight race, but with Pellegrini likely to edge out a win in round one.

Štefan Harabin, a 66-year-old former justice minister and judge who has publicly aligned with Russia in the Ukraine conflict, is anticipated to come in third.

Ján Kubiš, another ex-foreign minister and diplomat, along with the far-right figure Marian Kotleba, stand out among the other contenders.

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