“I should say honestly that I need to reach out more to voters who supported the government parties,” Korčok said from his Bratislava election headquarters as the early count was released. “It’s clear that they’re not satisfied with how this government is ruling, where it’s taking Slovakia.”

Pellegrini has served as speaker of parliament since last September’s general election, in which his Hlas (Voice) party placed third behind the front-running Smer (Direction) of Prime Minister Robert Fico. Along with nationalist junior partner SNS, their government has moved to end military support for Ukraine and to cut sentencing guidelines and statutes of limitation for corruption offenses.

Pellegrini previously served as Slovak prime minister in 2018 after Fico was forced from office amid a scandal over the murders that year of investigative journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée, Martina Kušnírová.

“Let’s enjoy this experience,” Pellegrini said as the polls closed on Saturday. The speaker, who only agreed to a single debate with Korčok before the first round, promised to hold “several duels, as it should be” with his opponent before the second round, and “not to succumb” to an aggressive campaign style.

The country’s 1993 Constitution gives its president largely ceremonial powers, including signing bills into law (the parliament in Bratislava can override a presidential veto by passing bills a second time), approving nominations for cabinet minister and head of the country’s SIS intelligence service, and issuing amnesties.

During the country’s three decades of independence, however, the power of the presidency has often been rooted in its soft power as a bulwark against democratic backsliding. Inaugural President Michal Kováč, for example, became a rallying point for resistance to thuggish 1990s PM Vladimír Mečiar, whose security forces kidnapped Kováč’s son and spirited him to Austria in the trunk of a car to face international fraud charges (later dropped).

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