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Slovak government collapses as political infighting takes hold

EPP_Summit,_10_March_2022,_Paris

Bratislava, Slovakia – After a little less than two years of rule, the Slovak government led by Prime Minister Eduard Heger (OĽANO) collapsed.

The trigger? A vote of no confidence initiated by former coalition partner SaS (Freedom and Solidarity) and opposition Hlas (Voice) party, citing growing discontent with the way the ruling coalition conducts the affairs of state, and specifically criticising Finance Minister and OĽANO leader Igor Matovič.

Slovak government loses vote of no confidence

The government, comprised of OĽANO, Za ľudí (For the People) and Sme Rodina (We are Family) – following the previous break-up with SaS – collapsed after a series of negotiations on next year’s budget, with 78 MPs out of 102 present supporting a vote of no confidence in the minority-rule government.

A governing coalition that was often described as chaotic and uneven, tested by the COVID-19 pandemic, Russia’s invasion of neighbouring Ukraine and the energy crisis among other matters, initially prompted hopes that sweeping anti-corruption measures and profound changes would follow the almost 12-year rule of the Smer party.

But whatever ambitions Slovakia’s new government may have had, these were often marred by continuous political infighting, conflicts within the Ministry of Interior and the police, on top of successful campaigning from the opposition.

After a coalition break-up in September, when SaS left the government, the party gave an ultimatum to the Minister of Finance, Igor Matovič, to resign. The conflict between Igor Matovič and SaS chairman Richard Sulík has been long in the making, especially after Freedom and Solidarity and Za ľudí forced, last year, Igor Matovič out of the Prime ministerial seat over the mismanagement of the Covid-19 pandemic crisis.

The no-confidence vote was conditioned on Matovič’s fate, who after delivering his resignation to the President’s office, immediately changed his mind and grabbed his resignation letter from the president’s assistant, claiming that “he was advised by someone to continue his fight against the mafia and not to resign”.

After said move, SaS immediately turned to take a vote of no confidence.

History repeating itself?

When MPs passed a successful vote of no confidence back in 2011, the dismissed government suffered a significant defeat in the following early elections, which brought the Smer party back to power with a constitutional majority. Coincidentally, said vote of no-confidence was also initiated by SaS and Richard Sulík.

During a speech in front of the Slovak National Council in late November, President Zuzana Čaputová warned of the threats posed by the current political climate, saying: “If we do not safeguard our democracy, then we will be the last to experience it”.

It is now up to her to formally initiate the transition process towards forming a new government. Backroom negotiations are well underway but could evidently take some time, with the next government requiring the support of a parliamentary majority. Early elections are another likely alternative.

With dark clouds gathering on the economic, security and geopolitical fronts, these are uncertain times for Slovakia, which could have been spared yet another domestic political crisis.

The possible return to power of Smer and former Prime Minister Robert Fico, and their potential alliance with a neo-Nazi movement, now also rank high on the list of the country’s mounting concerns.

By Mark Szabo

Headed by Kafkadesk's chief-editor Jules Eisenchteter, our Prague office gathers over half a dozen reporters, editors and contributors, as well as our social media team. It covers everything Czech and Slovak-related, and oversees operations from our other Central European desks in Krakow and Budapest.