Migration fears dominate debate as Slovakians head to the polls

Slovakia went to the polls Saturday, following a migration-focussed pre-election debate, which saw Prime Minister Robert Fico rally support on the back of claims that he will defend the country's security by keeping out asylum seekers.

Fico's populist Smer-SD party, or Social Democrats, whose campaign slogan "We protect Slovakia" was aimed squarely at migration concerns, is one of the few parties polling above the 5-per-cent hurdle required to clinch seats in parliament.

A total of 22 parties are up for election, including several splinter parties formed out of an increasingly fractious centre-right opposition.

Fico has previously described "illegal migrants" as "the greatest threat to Slovakia."

"I will not allow one single Muslim to be brought here through EU quotas," the leader of the predominantly Christian country pledged to 4,500 supporters at a rally in Bratislava on Wednesday.

He was referring to attempts by the European Union, of which Slovakia is a member, to evenly distribute the number of migrants within the bloc, which received a record 1.2 million first-time asylum bids last year.

An independent poll in November last year showed that 80 per cent of Slovakians support the government's tough line on migration. Just 330 people applied for asylum in Slovakia in 2015. All but eight of the applications were denied.

Under Fico, who has been premier since 2012, Slovakia's economy has grown by 4 per cent and the traditionally high unemployment rate has dropped for the first time to below 10 per cent.

Nonetheless, while the most recent polls show Smer-SD poised to retain its position as the country's largest party, observers say it may be reliant on smaller groups to build a coalition government.

Some 4.4 million people are eligible to vote in Saturday's election. Polls are due to close at 10 pm (2100 GMT), with first projections not expected before Sunday morning and final results on Monday.

The new government will assume the rotating six-month presidency of the European Union on July 1.

Last update: Sat, 05/03/2016 - 10:46

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