Slovaks went to the polls on Saturday to choose between economic liberals whose reforms led Slovakia into the European Union and the outgoing leftist government, which has taken a tough line on protecting workers.
Three final pre-election opinion polls on Thursday and Friday indicated the ruling leftist SMER party of Prime Minister Robert Fico would win the vote but for the first time suggested it might not be able to form a majority coalition.
Fico's party has been hit by last-minute allegations of a party funding scandal, and the surveys had a centre-right-led opposition alliance winning between 78 and 89 of parliament's 150 seats.
The centre-right SDKU, the strongest opposition party, hopes to form a coalition with the Christian Democrats (KDH), the liberal Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) and two ethnic Hungarian parties that would have a majority in the 150-seat parliament.
SDKU leader Iveta Radicova said in a final television debate on Friday night that her party would work to make it easier for businesses to create jobs, rather than squeezing the sector.
Fico retaliated by saying that right-wing policies were only good for the top-earning elite.
"Solidarity is a word you know nothing about," he said. "You only see the world through the eyes of the rich, and we see the world through those of the vast majority."
Bilateral ties, long chilly, have deteriorated further since the far-right Slovak National Party joined Fico's government in 2006, and since right-winger Viktor Orban won an election in Hungary in April on a ticket including a fight for the rights of Hungarian minorities abroad.
Business sees the centre-right as more pro-market, and especially less hostile to the big utility companies that Fico has tried to squeeze to guarantee low energy prices.
One risk for European partners is that the SDKU has indicated that a centre-right government might refuse to pay its 800 million euro share of the EU bailout of Greece.
Polling stations open at 7 a.m. (0500 GMT) on Saturday and first results are expected at around 11 p.m. (2100 GMT).
Slovakia, the euro zone's newest and poorest member, is emerging from recession and needs to further reform its pension system and reduce government spending to consolidate its fiscal position. The 2010 fiscal deficit is forecast to be 5.5 percent of GDP but analysts have said it could rise above 7 percent.
After consistently leading the polls, SMER fell back this week after Slovak media published a tape recording suggesting it had received illegal funding in the 2002 election campaign.
SMER has denied claims that had not accounted for some of its funding in 2002 and accused rivals of illegal smear tactics. Opposition parties have denied the accusations.
Former prime minister and SDKU chief Mikulas Dzurinda pulled out of the election over accusations of money laundering in February. Like Fico, he has denied breaking any law.
ReutersGüncelleme Tarihi: 12 Haziran 2010, 13:29