(Bloomberg) -- A pro-European candidate who could put the brakes on Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico’s populist agenda closed the gap with the ruling-coalition favorite ahead of the nation’s presidential election this week, polls showed. 

Ivan Korcok, a former Slovak foreign minister, led Fico ally Peter Pellegrini, 51.7% to 48.3%, according to an NMS Research survey for SME Daily. Another poll, conducted by Focus for TV Markiza, had Pellegrini with a slim edge, 50.8% to 49.2%. Both were within the surveys’ margin of error ahead of the election’s final round on Saturday. 

Slovakia’s prime minister returned to office last year with a pledge to end the country’s weapons deliveries to Ukraine and block certain sanctions against Russia. In over five months in office, he’s drawn nationwide protests and scrutiny from Brussels by seeking to overhaul Slovakia’s criminal code, ditch a special prosecutor’s office and crack down on critical journalists. 

The country’s reformist head of state, Zuzana Caputova, has emerged as Fico’s leading critic. Slovakia’s president holds a largely ceremonial role, but can veto legislation and appoint government officials, judges and central bankers in a check on the government’s powers.

After winning the presidency in 2019 on a pledge to battle corruption, Caputova announced last year that she wouldn’t seek a second term.

That sets the stage to fill the top post. Pellegrini, who succeeded Fico as prime minister after he resigned in 2018, had been the favorite in polls to win the contest, which would tighten Fico’s grip on power. 

But Korcok, who has pledged to keep the European Union member state in the bloc’s mainstream, scored an unexpected victory in the first round on March 23. 

With the race now a dead heat, the two will meet for a final televised debate late Wednesday. Pellegrini had sought to benefit from nationalist voters whose favored candidate was eliminated in the first round, while Korcok may have momentum from voters unhappy with Fico’s rule. 

Results will come in late Saturday after polls close at 10 p.m. local time. The March 28-April 2 NMS poll surveyed 1,045 respondents. The Focus survey, also conducted in that time frame, sampled 1,015 respondents.

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