Slovaks tilt toward snap vote as ruling party sets ultimatum

Tuesday , March 13, 2018 - 10:05 AM

Radoslav Tomek

(c) 2018, Bloomberg.

Slovakia took a step toward early elections after the smallest party in Premier Robert Fico’s ruling coalition said it would quit if it failed to clinch a deal on a snap vote halfway through the cabinet’s four-year term.

Fico’s ruling pact is teetering on the brink of collapse in a political crisis triggered by a journalist’s murder that has ignited the biggest protests since the fall of the Iron Curtain. The Most party made its ultimatum late on Monday, saying it will meet with Fico and its other partner, the Slovak National Party, to discuss its demand.

“We think that only early elections would solve this situation,” Most Chairman Bela Bugar told reporters in Bratislava. “If these talks fail, the party will leave the coalition.”

While anti-government protests over the past year have failed to dislodge administrations in Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary, the rallies in Slovakia have put unprecedented pressure on Fico. The three-time premier, who has styled himself as a pro-European Union counterpoint to euroskeptic leaders who have clashed with the bloc over democracy, has for now rejected calls from opponents to step down for what they say is rampant corruption.

The government will face a no-confidence motion in parliament within seven days following a request filed by the opposition on Monday. When asked whether Most would join in the vote against the cabinet, Bugar said “we are not there yet.”

President Andrej Kiska has called for the vote to be moved forward from 2020 or for a “radical” overhaul of the cabinet to take place to restore trust in state institutions.

He said last week that Slovakia had been shaken after the execution-style killing of Jan Kuciak, who was reporting on criminals with alleged ties to the government, and his girlfriend at their home last month. Tens of thousands of Slovaks took to the streets for a second week on Friday and are planning a new rally against the government this week.

Fico suffered his biggest casualty on Monday when his political protege, Interior Minister Robert Kalinak, resigned. The man best positioned to replace the premier at the head of his Smer party, Kalinak has borne most of the ire of protesters and opposition parties for a weak stance against alleged corruption and alleged links between organized crime and the government.

With only a thin majority in parliament -- the ruling parties control 78 of the chamber’s 150 seats, Fico has pushed back. Last week, he joined the ranks of illiberal regional peers, including Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, in accusing foreign actors such as billionaire financier and philanthropist George Soros of trying to oust them.

Early election must be approved by a three-fifth majority of all lawmakers. Smer alone doesn’t have enough deputies to block it, while all opposition parties have said that they will support early vote.

The outcome may hinge on the Slovak National Party, which said it was ready for a cabinet overhaul or early elections if needed.

“We are not clinging to this government,” its leader, Andrej Danko, told journalists on Monday.

--With assistance from Peter Laca

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