- Associated Press - Sunday, March 11, 2012

BRATISLAVA, Slovakia (AP) — A left-leaning party led by one of the few leading politicians in Slovakia to escape voter anger over a major corruption scandal has been propelled back into power in an early parliamentary election, according to final results Sunday.

The Smer-Social Democracy party of former Prime Minister Robert Fico was the clear winner with 44.4 percent of the vote, or 83 seats in the 150-seat Parliament, with votes from all 5,956 polling stations counted.

The result allows Mr. Fico’s party to govern alone, the first time a party has held sole power in Slovakia since the split of Czechoslovakia in 1993. The populist leader offered opposition parties on Sunday a chance to join forces and form a two-party coalition government, but they rejected his offer.

Mr. Fico, who pledged to maintain a welfare state, increase corporate tax and hike income tax for the highest earners, maintained through the campaign that it was necessary to create a strong, stable government, possibly formed by two parties, in the face of economic uncertainty.

“We succeeded with what we offered as an alternative,” Mr. Fico said early Sunday. “We’ve achieved a result that is a pleasant surprise for us, to be honest.”

President Ivan Gasparovic said Sunday he formally would ask Mr. Fico to form a new government but gave no timetable.

The outgoing center-right, four-party coalition received a combined 51 seats on the back of voter anger over a major corruption scandal.

The new Ordinary People party, which campaigned on an anti-corruption ticket won 16 seats, while the ultranationalist Slovak National Party, known for derogatory comments about ethnic Hungarians, Gypsies and political opponents, ended below the 5 percent threshold needed to win parliamentary representation.

Turnout was surprisingly high at 59.11 percent. Analysts had predicted a record low turnout, with voters angry over allegations that a private financial group bribed government and opposition politicians in 2005-06 to win lucrative privatization deals.

Outgoing Prime Minister Iveta Radicova’s Slovak Democratic and Christian Union was hard hit by the allegations. Ms. Radicova’s party was in power in 2005-06 and the then-prime minister, Mikulas Dzurinda, is now the foreign minister and party chairman. The party won 5.9 percent of the vote, despite overseeing an economic boom driven by solid growth, strong exports and the implementation of much-needed pension reforms. It won 15.4 percent at the 2010 ballot.

Ms. Radicova, Slovakia‘s first female prime minister, is quitting politics and plans to lecture at Britain’s Oxford University.

Mr. Fico, whose party was in power in 2006-10, has been implicated in the corruption allegations but says he is innocent because he couldn’t have influenced any decisions since he was part of the opposition.

The election promises of Mr. Fico, who is known for foul-mouthed tirades against journalists, included a plan to build a new national soccer stadium and not to increase the pension age for women because they “don’t deserve it.” He is also against further privatization of state assets and opposes austerity measures, such as a value-added-tax increase.

Analysts have warned that Mr. Fico may not be ready to take the necessary steps to lower an unemployment rate of more than 13 percent and reduce the deficit to 3 percent by 2013, as required after eurozone nations agreed on a deal to stop overspending.

Mr. Fico also was a vocal opponent of the U.S.-led war in Iraq and withdrew Slovak troops. He has said he would not allow any part of the Obama administration’s revamped U.S. missile shield planned for Europe to be based in Slovakia.