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Slovakia election: Exit polls show Fico wins with reduced majority

Populist Prime Minister Robert Fico has been re-elected on a strident anti-refugee plaform. But his leftist Smer-Social Democrat party is projected to have lost seats to smaller parties.

Exit polls released Saturday project at least seven new parties entered parliament including the far-right Slovak National Party (SNS) with eight percent.

The private Markiza TV station showed the incumbent Smer-SD party taking 27.3 percent of the vote followed by the liberal Freedom and Solidarity party with 13.3 percent and the conservative OLANO-NOVA party clinching 11.2 percent.

That means Smer-SD is on course to win the most votes but lose its parliamentary majority in the 150-seat chamber, and will need to seek partners to form a ruling coalition. Actual returns aren't expected until late Saturday and early Sunday.

Fico told reporters that it‘s "a big mishmash and a huge number of political parties in parliament," as he arrived at his Smer-SD party headquarters minutes ahead of the end of voting.

His strong anti-refugee rhetoric echoes that of other hardliners in the Visegrad bloc of poorer ex-communist eastern EU members, that includes Czech President Milos Zeman, Hungarian Premier Viktor Orban and Poland's Jaroslaw Kaczynski. All have resisted EU leaders' efforts of forging a bloc-wide response to the refugee crisis.

Former president hospitalized

President Michal Kovac.

85-year-old Michal Kovac's condition isn't believed to be life threatening

Meanwhile, the country's former president, 85-year-old Michal Kovac, is in a stable condition after being hospitalized Saturday at Bratislava's University Hospital. He has been hospitalized in the past, mostly because of problems linked to Parkinson's disease.

Kovac held the largely ceremonial role of president from Slovakia's split from Czechoslovakia in 1993 through 1998 and is no longer actively involved in political life.

Economic strength

Slovakia is one of the euro zone's more financially sound states having attracted foreign investment and building a firm manufacturing base with automakers.

But with official unemployment in excess of 10 percent and vast regional disparities in wealth leading to low healthcare and education standards, many voters have expressed their frustration with the country's leadership.

jar/lw (AFP, Reuters, AP)

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