Slovak voters handed a resounding victory to the centre-right, anti-graft OLaNO opposition party in Saturday's general election, dominated by an angry backlash over the 2018 murder of a journalist probing corruption in the eurozone state.
Having vowed to immediately push through anti-corruption measures when in office, OLaNO leader Igor Matovic galvanised voter outrage over the murder of Jan Kuciak and his fiancee and the high-level graft their deaths exposed.
"We will try to create the best government Slovakia has ever had, with the help of the other leaders of the democratic opposition," Matovic told journalists as he claimed victory after the exit poll results were announced.
"It was the death of Jan Kuciak and Martina Kusnirova that woke up Slovakia."
Outgoing Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini conceded defeat as partial official results showed OLaNO outpacing his populist-left Smer-SD by six percentage points.
"Congratulations to the election winner, good health, good luck," Pellegrini told Matovic, adding "he has good marketing, but we will be interested in how he will handle his office."
OLaNO took 24.87 percent of the vote, ahead of 18.73 percent for the governing populist-left Smer-SD party, while the conservative We Are Family scored 8.34 percent, the liberal Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) won 5.67 percent and the fellow liberal "For the People" of ex-president Andrej Kiska mustered 5.43 percent of the vote, according to returns from 82.76 percent of polling stations.
The result suggests Smer-SD lacks obvious coalition partners as it has ruled out teaming up with the far-right Our Slovakia LSNS party, which scored 8.27 percent support.
When asked by journalists about a possible coalition with OLaNO, Pellegrini quipped "never say never".
"But you have to put this question to Igor Matovic whether he would be willing to do so or not," he added.
Matovic told reporters that he had agreed via telephone to meet with President Zuzana Caputova on "Monday or Tuesday" and that he would begin talks with leaders of other opposition parties that make it into parliament on Sunday.
Earlier on Saturday, Caputova said she would consider the "coalition potential" of party leaders when deciding whom to task with creating a government.
Analysts have indicated that OLaNO will have the option of considering several opposition parties for a coalition.
"There is a chance that this new government will last until the end of its term," said Slovakia analyst Tomas Koziak, the Rector of the University of Political Sciences based in Kutna Hora, Czech Republic.
"These parties have been in opposition for a very long time, therefore their top politicians are thirsty for power. Power is the strongest glue," Koziak told AFP.
Allegedly a hit ordered by a businessman with connections to politicians, the killings of Kuciak and Kusnirova have become a lightning rod for public outrage at graft in public life.
"Change is much needed here," said Daniela Jonasova, a 35-year-old office clerk, who told AFP she voted for OLaNO at a Bratislava polling station.
Analysts suggest that OLaNO's Matovic, a 46-year-old media-savvy MP but unpredictable politician, could become premier if he manages to unify the splintered opposition.
Decency in politics
An eccentric self-made millionaire and former media boss, Matovic set up "Ordinary People and Independent Personalities -- OLaNO" a decade ago.
According to Bratislava-based political analyst Radoslav Stefancik, "the election is primarily about the desire for decency in politics".
"Instead of protesting against the ruling Smer-SD party on the streets, people will do so in polling stations," Stefancik told AFP.
The double murder triggered the largest anti-government protests since communist times and toppled Fico as prime minister, with his party colleague Peter Pellegrini taking up the reins.
It also propelled Zuzana Caputova, a liberal lawyer and anti-graft activist, out of nowhere to win last year's presidential race in the country of 5.4 million people.
Heavily dependent on car-making, economic growth in the Slovak economy is projected to slow to 2.2 percent this year, according to the European Commission's latest forecast.
Unemployment is relatively low and stood at around 5.6 percent in late 2019.
Turnout tallied at 63.94 percent of the electorate, official results showed, up from 59.8 in 2016.