The speaker of Slovakia’s Parliament, Peter Pellegrini, a close ally of populist Prime Minister Robert Fico, announced on Friday he will run for president.
Pellegrini, 48, is considered a favorite in the race for the largely ceremonial post, according to public polls. Zuzana Čaputová, the country’s first female president, decided not to seek reelection.
The first round of the election is scheduled for March 23.
Pellegrini, who favors a strong role for the state in society, heads the left-wing Hlas (Voice) party that finished third in the Sept 30 parliamentary election. His party formed a ruling coalition with Fico’s leftist Smer (Direction) party and the ultranationalist Slovak National Party.
Pellegrini, who was Fico’s former deputy in Smer, became prime minister in 2018 after Fico was forced to resign following major anti-government street protests resulting from the 2018 killing of journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée.
Pellegrini parted ways with Fico after the scandal-tainted Smer lost the previous election in 2020.
He previously served as deputy prime minister (2016-18) and education minister (2014) in Fico’s previous governments and was speaker in the Slovak Parliament, also known as the National Council, in 2014-16.
Former Foreign Minister Ivan Korčok, a pro-Western career diplomat, is expected to be Pellegrini’s main rival in the presidential vote.
The other notable candidates include another former foreign minister, Jan Kubiš; the head of the Slovak National Party, Andrej Danko; and far-right politician Marian Kotleba.
Čaputová has been a clear pro-Western voice in Slovak politics and a staunch supporter of Ukraine in its fight against Russia’s full-scale invasion.
But Pellegrini’s party is part of Fico’s coalition that ended the country’s military aid for Ukraine.