BRATISLAVA Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico won Saturday's parliamentary election, nearly complete results showed, but gains by opposition parties including the far right will make it very hard if not impossible to form a new government.
If Fico fails to put together a government led by his leftist Smer party, a group of center-right parties could try to form a broad but possibly unstable anti-Fico coalition, a repeat of the 2010 election.
Fico, a leftist whose anti-immigration and socially conservative views are in line with neighbors Poland and Hungary, took 28.3 percent of the vote, far ahead of others but less than he had hoped for, results from 99.98 percent of voting districts showed.
With euro zone member Slovakia due to take over the European Union's rotating presidency from July, giving it a bigger role in EU policy discussions over the bloc's migration crisis, the election is being watched closely in Brussels.
Fico bet on a combination of popular welfare measures such as free train rides for students and pensioners and his opposition to accepting refugees to secure a third term, after ruling in 2006-2010 and 2012-2016.
The results showed eight groups won seats in the new parliament, including four that were not in the outgoing one. Some factions rule out working with each other, especially with a far-right party that gained representation.
Some analysts raised the prospect of a stalemate that could lead to a minority or temporary cabinet.
Fico, who had hoped to rule with one smaller coalition partner, said building a new coalition in a highly fragmented parliament would take time and be tough, given the "very complicated" election results.
"As the party that won the election we have the obligation to try build a meaningful and stable government," Fico told reporters. "It will not be easy, I am saying that very clearly."
Fico, who dismisses multiculturalism as "a fiction", has pledged never to accept EU-agreed quotas on relocating refugees who have flooded into Greece and Italy from Syria and beyond.
Slovakia has a tiny Muslim minority. It has not seen any large numbers of refugees pass through its territory.
Opponents portray Fico as an inefficient and unsavoury populist who ignores the need to reform education and healthcare. However, most opposition parties in the predominantly Catholic country agree with Fico's hardline stance on migrants.
Refusal to provide guarantees for a bailout of Greece brought down the previous center-right government in 2012.
Both Smer-led and center-right coalitions face huge obstacles, because either would have to include the centrist Most-Hid party popular among the Hungarian minority as well as the mildly nationalist Slovak National Party.
Most-Hid refuses to work with the nationalists, the party's chief Bela Bugar said, putting the faction that won just 6.5 percent in the position of a possible king-maker.
"This will be a more difficult birth than this country has ever experienced," said Marian Lesko, a commentator at weekly Trend.
FAR-RIGHT IN PARLIAMENT
Slovakia is one of the euro zone's most financially sound states, popular with foreign investors, particularly car makers.
But unemployment of more than 10 percent and vast regional differences in wealth, as well as corruption and low healthcare and education standards, have disappointed many voters.
The dissatisfaction along with Fico's bet on immigration fears may have brought votes to protest parties. The far-right radical People's Party of central Slovak Governor Marian Kotleba won 8.0 percent, nearly three times more than predicted.
Kotleba has in the past sported uniforms reminiscent of the Nazi-era Slovak state, and was investigated, but not found guilty of, spreading hatred toward the Roma minority.
(Editing by Tom Brown, Matthew Lewis and Stephen Powell)