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Slovakia PM quits and is replaced by caretaker as political crisis deepens

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Slovakia’s prime minister has resigned and been replaced by a caretaker, deepening the country’s political crisis months before an election that looks likely to be won by a Moscow-friendly party opposed to further military aid to Ukraine.

The central bank deputy governor, Ľudovít Ódor, was due this week to become leader of a technocrat government after the prime minister, Eduard Heger, himself acting as a caretaker since losing his majority last September, stepped down on Sunday.

Under Heger’s centre-right government, elected in 2021, Slovakia – an EU and Nato member – has proved a strong backer of Kyiv since Russia’s invasion, sending weapons and, last month, its retired fleet of Soviet-made MiG fighters.

But polls suggest the opposition Smer-SD leftwing populist party led by the former prime minister Robert Fico, who has opposed military aid to Ukraine and blamed “Ukrainian fascists” for starting the war there in 2014, is on course to win the 30 September elections.

Fico, who was leader from 2006 to 2010 and again from 2012 to 2018, has also railed against “western propaganda” and said he would force weapons shipments from elsewhere to be rerouted and veto “pointless” further sanctions on Russia.

The Slovak president, Zuzana Čaputová, named Ódor, 46, as caretaker leader – the country’s third prime minister since 2020 elections – late on Sunday after returning from King Charles III’s coronation in London, saying he would take up the job during the week.

The country’s political landscape has become increasingly fragmented as Heger’s coalition has been progressively weakened by soaring energy and food costs and the impact of the war in Ukraine. He quit after a spate of senior ministerial resignations.

The agriculture and foreign ministers were the latest to step down last week, leaving Heger officially in charge of several ministries – including finance – since the jobs cannot be filled while the government is acting in a caretaker capacity.

“I decided to ask the president to remove my authority and to leave the president space to try with a technocrat government to stably and peacefully lead Slovakia to democratic parliamentary elections,” Heger said.

Parliament toppled Heger’s government in a no-confidence vote in December after the four-party coalition lost its majority when the libertarian SaS party quit, unhappy with efforts to ease the cost of living crisis.

Fico has blamed EU sanctions for cutting off oil and gas from Russia, the country’s biggest prewar supplier. His Smer-SD party leads the polls on about 17%, ahead of a breakaway party, Hlas (Voice), formed by his immediate successor as prime minister, Peter Pellegrini.

Nine parties could win seats, including a new party set up by Heger. Fico, who if he does win could find it hard to form a new coalition, resigned in 2018 after huge anti-corruption protests over the murder of an investigative journalist and his partner.

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