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Saturday, 21 September, 2002, 23:59 GMT 00:59 UK
Centre-right heads Slovak poll
The SDKU's leader, Mikulas Dzurinda (left), speaks shortly after exit polls are announced
Dzurinda (left) should be able to form a majority cabinet
Voting are being counted in Slovakia's general election with exit polls indicating a coalition of centre-right parties could form a government, excluding the nationalist party of controversial ex-Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar from power.

Vladimir Meciar
Meciar is likely to be left out of power
Although the polls showed Mr Meciar's HZDS in front, with about 18% of the vote, outgoing Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda's SDKU party did better than expected with 16.5%.

That opens the way for him to start building a coalition with his centre-right allies in the 150-seat parliament.

The results, if confirmed, are likely to please the European Union and Nato, which had warned Slovakia its application for membership of the organisations would run into trouble under a Meciar government.

Mr Meciar was criticised for human rights violations and democratic failures during his 1994-1998 term as prime minister but he is still one of the country's most popular politicians.

Left out

While other party leaders debated the election results on television, Mr Meciar stayed in his office and refused to talk to the media.

Exit polls
Vladimir Meciar, HZDS: 18%
Mikulas Dzurinda, SDKU 16.5%
Robert Fico, Smer: 13.4%
Source: Markiza television
Experts say that no party will deal with him, and - just as in the 1998 vote - the centre-right allies led by Mr Dzurinda should be able to form a majority government.

The BBC's Ray Furlong in Bratislava says Mr Dzurinda has expressed cautious satisfaction with the initial results but said he would wait for firmer figures before starting negotiations.

Official results are due on Sunday morning.

Surprises

Our correspondent says there were some surprises in the initial results.

Robert Fico speaks with his deputy Monika Benova
Robert Fico did less well than expected

The unreformed Communist Party (KSS) looks set to return to parliament for the first time since Slovakia's independence in 1993 after polling between 6% and 7%.

And the leftist populist, Robert Fico, who had been leading the polls won less of the vote than expected, with his Smer party on just 14. 4%, according to a Markiza television station poll.

Another new party, Ano, led by the co-owner of Slovakia's biggest commercial TV station, Pavol Rusko, polled a respectable 7.6 %.

Correspondents say Mr Rusko, with his liberal economic programme, is a potential coalition partner for the outgoing coalition.

Mr Fico is another, but he is demanding the prime minister's office in return for his co-operation.

Our correspondent says another potential coalition partner is a party representing Sovlakia's ethnic Hungarian minority, the SMK, which polled just over 10% of the vote.

According to exit polls the voter turnout was just over 71%.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
the BBC's Ray Furlong
"Exit polls do not show one clear winner"
See also:

19 Sep 02 | Media reports
20 Sep 02 | Europe
28 Jun 02 | Media reports
20 Apr 00 | Europe
31 Aug 02 | Europe
13 Mar 02 | Country profiles
Links to more Europe stories are at the foot of the page.


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