The centrist Progressive Slovakia (PS) party was on course to win Saturday’s parliamentary elections, according to two exit polls, beating the populist Smer-SD (“Section-Slovak Social Democracy”) party, which promised to reduce, if not to end military aid to neighboring Ukraine.

European Parliament vice-president Michal Simecsa’s PA is on course to secure 23.5% of the vote, according to a sixth poll by the Focus institute for the Markiza television network, or 19.97% according to another exit poll, for the public media group RTVS.

Yesterday’s election in the EU and NATO member state of 5.4 million people was seen as decisive for whether Bratislava will remain on a path of alignment with the West or turn to Russia. The election campaign was marked by high levels of misinformation online.

Smer-SD, of the populist former prime minister Robert Fico, is said to be heading for second place, with 21.9% and 19.1% respectively.

However, the counting of votes until the early hours of the morning gave a completely opposite picture, suggesting that the outcome remains open. With 30.14% of electoral divisions integrated, Smer-SD prevailed with 24.67%, HLAS-SD (“Voice-Social Democracy”) came second with 16.72% and PS third with the 12.58%.

The official final results are expected to be announced in the morning.

In any case, the winning party will need to ally with smaller ones to form a government with a majority in Slovakia’s 150-seat parliament.

The next government will replace a center-right coalition in power since 2020 that has changed three times in three years, but has provided significant military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine.

During a stormy election campaign with many bitter clashes between the candidates, Mr. Fico came up against the European Union, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as well as LGBTI+.

For his part, Michal Simecsa promised to rid the country of “the past”, apparently referring to Mr Fico’s three terms as prime minister (2006-2010, 2012-2018), calling on voters to “choose the future ».

After casting his vote in Bratislava, Mr Simecsa said yesterday that he would “accept the result of the election”, whatever it may be, “with humility”. “It is very good that there are a large number of people in Slovakia who want a decent European future for their country and their family,” he added.

Jurai Blanar, candidate of Smer-SD and vice-president of the parliament, assured for his part that “the people trust us and I firmly believe that we will win”.

President Zuzana Tsaputova said she will entrust the winner of the elections to form the next government. The choice of tomorrow’s coalition partners will be wide, as according to the exit polls seven to eight factions are expected to enter the parliament.

Apart from the two main ones, these are the HLAS-SD parties of Peter Pellegrini, the former vice president of Smer-SD and Mr. Fico’s successor at the head of the government in 2018, Oleno (center), Freedom and Solidarity (SaS, liberal ), the Democracy faction (extreme right) and the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), according to Markiza, while the eighth might be the Slovak National Party (SNS), according to RTVS.

HLAS-SD was born in 2020, after the split of Smer-SD, two years after Mr. Fiko left the post of Prime Minister, following the much-lauded murder of journalist-investigator Jan Kuciak and his fiancee.

The deceased had revealed the existence of relations between the Italian mafia and Mr. Fico’s government in an article published posthumously.

Slovakia became independent in 1993, in a bloodless divorce from the Czech Republic, after Czechoslovakia ceased to be ruled by a communist government in 1989 after four decades.