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Slovak anti-corruption opposition parties score emphatic election win

BRATISLAVA (Reuters) - Slovakia’s opposition led by the Ordinary People party (OLANO) won an emphatic victory in Saturday’s parliamentary election, as voters angry with graft routed the ruling center-left Smer that has dominated the political scene for over a decade.

Igor Matovic, leader of The Ordinary People and Independent Personalities (OLaNO), arrives to attend a televised debate after the country's parliamentary election in Bratislava, Slovakia March 1, 2020. REUTERS/David W Cerny

Complete results showed on Sunday that OLANO, a politically amorphous, pro-European Union and pro-NATO movement, took 25.02% of the vote, far ahead of the ruling Smer with 18.29%.

Support for OLANO surged in recent weeks, from less than 6% late last year, capturing a protest vote fueled by the murder of an investigative journalist two years ago.

“We take the result as a request from people who want us to clean up Slovakia, To make Slovakia a just country, where the law applies to everybody regardless if he is rich or poor,” OLANO leader Igor Matovic said after most of the votes were counted.

Matovic said he would contact leaders of three other center-right parties - the liberal Freedom and Solidarity (SaS), the mildly conservative For the People of former president Andrej Kiska, and the socially conservative, eurosceptic We Are Family - to form an alliance that would have a majority of over 90 seats in the 150-seat parliament.

Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini from Smer acknowledged defeat and said the party’s run in power - 12 out of the past 14 years - was over.

“We are going into opposition... and we will be a very able opposition from day one,” he said in a television debate on Sunday.

Smer scored its worst result since 2002. Its nationalist and Hungarian minority allies did not win any seats, the first time in decades that Hungarians will not be directly represented.

Predictions that the far-right, anti-Western People’s Party could make gains were not borne out as it won under 8%.

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The political shift in European Union member state, which has avoided fights with Brussels unlike its central European neighbors Hungary and Poland, started with the 2018 murder of journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancée.

An investigation unearthed communications between a businessman now on trial for ordering the hit and politicians and judicial officials. The defendant has denied the charges.

The killing led to the biggest street protests in the post-communist era, forcing Smer leader Robert Fico to resign as prime minister, though his party held on to power.

Matovic, 46, told Reuters last week he wanted to be a conciliatory voice toward the EU within the Visegrad Group of he Slovakia, Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland.

Matovic, who formerly owned regional newspapers and who has been a lawmaker since 2010, calls himself a social conservative and economic liberal but declines to tag OLANO on a left-right or liberal-conservative scale.

In the European Parliament, OLANO is aligned with the center-right European People’s Party.

“I would like to send a positive signal,” Matovic said on Sunday, adding that he did not want European partners to feel Slovakia was a corrupt place “where journalists and their fiancees are murdered just because someone unearthed corruption”.

He said he would strive for better education for the underprivileged Roma minority, and wanted the Roma, Hungarian and Ruthenian minorities to feel equal.

The new coalition will have a conservative touch on social issues brought by some OLANO deputies and We Are Family, meaning there could be clashes with the other prospective coalition partners.

“I fear that this government will be relatively fragile because, for example, SaS has in many areas different values from We Are Family,” said political scientist Matus Sloboda.

Election results graphic:

Reporting by Tomas Mrva and Jan Lopatka; Writing by Jan Lopatka; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien, Tom Hogue and Frances Kerry