* Promises taxes for the rich, security for the poor
* Supports euro zone rescue plans
By Jan Lopatka and Martin Santa
BRATISLAVA, March 9 (Reuters) - Slovakia's former prime minister Robert Fico looks set for a political comeback in an election on Saturday, after campaigning on promises to build a strong social safety net in turbulent economic times.
Polls show the 47-year-old lawyer will win around 40 percent of the vote, a record mandate in Slovakia's 20 years of independence that would knock his centre-right rival Mikulas Dzurinda out of power and possibly even from parliament.
Fico, who served one term as the central European country's prime minister in 2006-2010, has pledged to dump Dzurinda's flagship reform - a 19 percent flat income tax - and reel in more from the rich, banks and other firms.
"People are worried about two things: social security and access to health care," he said in a recent speech.
The unrivalled leader of his centre-left Smer party, he says he plans to use tax hikes to maintain welfare and cut the budget deficit and continue the outgoing cabinet's effort to protect the country's sovereign credit ratings.
Rhetoric aimed at poorer, older, and rural voters has served him well in the euro zone's second poorest country, where 13.7 percent are out of a job.
The minimum Slovak monthly salary is just 327 euros, half of the minimum pay in crisis-hit Greece.
Fico supports the euro zone's plans to rescue its weaker members, unlike a section of the outgoing coalition, which collapsed in October in a row over debt relief.
"He is a very pro-European politician. He strongly supports the European Stability Mechanism and (efforts for) stability in the euro zone," said political analyst Samuel Abraham.
COLLAPSE ON RIGHT
Fico was a career lawyer before the 1989 democratic "Velvet Revolution", and a member of the ruling Communist Party.
He rose from obscurity in the 1990s to fill a vacuum on the left, railing against Dzurinda's pro-market reforms which sold off state firms, cut welfare and job security and streamlined taxes, winning plaudits from the EU.
After the 2006 election Fico shocked observers at home and abroad by forming a coalition including Vladimir Meciar, an autocratic former leader who was accused of undermining democracy and plunged the country into diplomatic isolation in the 1990s.
But Fico steered clear of dismantling Dzurinda's main liberal economic achievements and, in 2009, led the central European country into the euro zone ahead of its neighbours.
Fico's likely victory comes on the back of a collapse on the fragmented Slovak right, whose popularity has plummeted following a scandal revealing an alleged web of corruption among politicians and businessmen.
Fico adopted a pro-Russian stance in the 2008 South Ossetia war, blaming Georgia for starting the conflict. Unlike most EU countries, he has refused to back the independence of Kosovo.
In the past he employed mildly nationalistic rhetoric against neighbouring Hungary. Slovakia has a half million-strong ethnic-Hungarian minority.
Fico's government pushed through a law tightening rules on using Hungarian at public offices, angering Budapest. Ties could grow rocky again now that Hungary is ruled by right-winger Viktor Orban.
Fico has had strained relations with the media, which he often sues, and pushed through a press law that rights groups, including the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, have criticised for stifling press freedom.
For a factbox click on (Editing by Andrew Roche)