Bratislava, Slovakia – Smer-SD, the party which has dominated Slovak politics for much of the past 15 years, is heading into troubled waters after Peter Pellegrini announced he was going his own way and split from long-time strongman Robert Fico.
On Wednesday, former Slovak Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini held a press conference in his hometown of Banska Bystrica to announce he was leaving Smer, after months of speculation.
Describing it as “one of [his] most difficult political decisions”, Pellegrini, who replaced Smer chairman Robert Fico as Slovakia’s Prime Minister in the wake of the gruesome murder of journalist Jan Kuciak in February 2018, lauded the achievements of Smer-SD but said the party needed to face the mistakes it had made over the years.
Although Pellegrini had previously expressed his desire to take up Smer’s mantle and openly urged Robert Fico to step down from Smer’s leadership in order for the party to renew itself, weeks of behind-the-scenes negotiations failed to bridge the gap between the two men.
While Pellegrini is believed to embody a more liberal and scandal-free image of the long-time dominant social democratic party, Robert Fico has come to symbolize the failures of the scandal-riddled party, especially in light of the investigation into Kuciak’s murder.
Pellegrini and Fico had long been crossing swords behind the scenes, with analysts now predicting that the former’s departure could pave the way for a further radicalization of Smer, whose plummeting popularity led to three successive electoral defeats over the past two years.
Announcing he would form his new political party from scratch, Peter Pellegrini said he expected some Smer lawmakers to join him.
Early opinion polls suggest Pellegrini’s party could count on the support of more than 20% of voters – neck and neck with the ruling OLaNO party of Prime Minister Igor Matovic and twice as much as Smer – indicating the yet-unformed party is bound to become a political force to reckon with.