BRATISLAVA Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico won Saturday's parliamentary election, nearly complete results showed, but gains by opposition parties including far-right extremists will complicate formation of a new government.
Fico, a leftist whose anti-immigration views are in line with neighbours Poland and Hungary, took 28.7 percent of the vote, far ahead of others but less than around 35 percent predicted in opinion surveys, results from 91 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 from 2006-2010 and 2012-2016.
The results showed that at least eight groups may win seats in the new parliament.
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 him as an inefficient and unsavory 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 Muslim immigrants.
If Fico fails to put together a government, a group of centre-right parties could try to form a broad but possibly unstable anti-Fico coalition, a repeat of the 2010 election.
Any centre-right coalition would include the libertarian Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) party, which held second place in the partial results with 11.5 percent of the vote. The party's refusal to provide guarantees for a bailout of Greece brought down the previous centre-right government in 2012.
EXTREMISTS 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 corruption and low healthcare and education standards, have disappointed many voters.
The results showed Fico's bet on immigration fears may have brought votes to others. The far-right radical group of central Slovak Governor Marian Kotleba won 8.2 percent of the vote, nearly three times more than opinion polls had 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.
A new anti-immigration party of businessman Boris Kollar also surprisingly crossed the 5 percent threshold to win seats.
(Editing by Tom Brown, Matthew Lewis and Kim Coghill)
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