BRATISLAVA, Slovakia (AP) — Slovaks headed to the ballots Saturday to elect a successor to Zuzana Čaputová, the country’s first female president and a staunch backer of Slovakia’s neighbor Ukraine in its fight against Russia’s two-year invasion. She is not seeking a second term.

Peter Pellegrini, a close ally of Slovakia’s  populist Prime Minister Robert Fico, is considered a favorite in the race for the largely ceremonial post of president. He leads a field of nine candidates in the first round of the presidential election to become the country’s sixth head of state since Slovakia gained independence in 1993 after Czechoslovakia split in two.

Polls will close at 2100 GMT and results are expected Sunday.

If no candidate gets a majority, which is expected, the top two finishers will go through to a runoff on April 6.

Pellegrini, 48, who favors a strong role for the state, heads the left-wing Hlas (Voice) party that finished third in the Sept. 30 parliamentary election. His party joined a ruling coalition with Fico’s leftist Smer (Direction) party and the ultranationalist Slovak National Party. The new government immediately halted arms delivery to Ukraine.

Former Foreign Minister Ivan Korčok, 59, a pro-Western career diplomat is his main rival.

“From my point of view, I did all I could,” Korčok said Saturday after casting the ballot in the town of Senec near the capital Bratislava. “It’s up to the people to consider carefully what the future head of state will look like.”

Korčok had also served as the ambassador to the United States and Germany, and firmly supports Slovakia’s European Union and NATO memberships.

Most public polls expect a narrow victory for Pellegrini in the first round.

A former justice minister and judge, Štefan Harabin, 66, who has openly sided with Russia in its war against Ukraine is predicted to finish third .

Another former foreign minister and career diplomat, Ján Kubiš, and far-right leader Marian Kotleba are among other notable candidates.

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