Saturday

18th Nov 2017

New Slovak government in convalescence

  • Prime minister Robert Fico will need several weeks to recover from heart surgery (Photo: Slovak PM office)

The new Slovak government is expected to be sworn in by the parliament this week, while both the prime minister and parliament speaker are in hospital.

Robert Fico, who won a third mandate in March, was taken to hospital on 14 March for chest pain and underwent heart surgery on Friday (22 April).

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  • Fico (second from right) and Andrej Danko (second from left) are the two main leaders of the four-party coalition (Photo: Slovak PM office)

The medical team followed Fico's wish and gave no details about the surgery, but it said over the weekend that the PM was recovering well. National media reported that he had had a triple bypass, with a likely convalescence period of several weeks.

Meanwhile, Andrej Danko, the leader of the Slovak National Party (SNS) and parliament speaker announced last week he would undergo a stomach operation on Monday (25 April) and would also need several weeks to recover.

Fico and Danko were the driving force behind the creation, after weeks of negotiations, of an unprecedented coalition between Fico's center-left Smer-SD party and three center-right parties - Danko's SNS; Most-Hid, a party advocating civic and Hungarian minority rights; and Siet (the Net), a new pro-business party.

Political stability

Their joint absence from the political scene casts uncertainty over Slovakia's government, almost two months after elections produced a fragmented parliament and a breakthrough for the extreme right. It also comes three months before Slovakia takes over the six-month EU presidency for the first time.

“The coalition of historic compromise,” as it has called itself, was broadly anticipated before the elections.

“We will get down to work and prove that Slovakia can maintain a political stability even in tough political situations and proceed with its tasks both at home and in Europe,” Fico wrote in an opinion article published by the Hospodarske Noviny daily before his surgery.

But the decision by Most-Hid and Siet to join the ruling group sparked angry protests by centre-right voters, media commentators and opposition politicians, mainly from the liberal SaS and populist OLaNO parties.

They claimed the two parties did not try hard enough to form a centre-right cabinet and were left with few ministries and little influence in their alliance with Fico, whom they strongly criticised in the past for his party's links with corruption scandals.

Pro-EU stance

In a parliamentary debate last week ahead of the confidence vote, opposition MPs said that the coalition agreement had been struck primarily between oligarchs standing behind the four parties. All coalition leaders strongly rejected the claim.

Opposition MPs also argued that with the same people in charge of police and criminal prosecution - and appointed by Smer-SD - the Slovak public could hardly believe that the new government will truly fight against corruption. They said the new laws may not be enough if the individual officials linked with the Smer-SD remained in place.

For their part, Most-Hid and Siet retorted that there was no real chance to form a stable centre-right cabinet and that their coalition with Fico would allow them to contribute to possible positive changes in the judiciary or the economy.

In addition, both parties pressed for and seem to have achieved a tone-down in Slovakia's negative rhetoric on the EU migration crisis, as well as a strong declaration of the country's pro-European and pro-Nato foreign policy orientation. During the campaign, the SNS, and Smer-SD sometimes, had adopted a more critical stance on this orientation.

“It can be viewed as a back-down on the migration dispute as there seems to be some progress on the ground. The new conciliatory attitude by Slovakia could help facilitate the EU deal on solving the consequences of the refugee crisis,” political analyst Aneta Vilagi told EUobserver.

A lawsuit filed last year by Slovakia at the European Court of Justice against the EU decision to set up mandatory quotas on refugees is unlikely to be dropped, according to Smer-SD officials.

The crucial reasoning for the left-right coalition - as frequently stated in its government programme - was the declared intention to prevent a further rise of extreme right and anti-establisment political parties.

Extreme-right grabbing attention

At the 5 March election, the extreme-right People's Party–Our Slovakia (LSNS) led by Marian Kotleba obtained 8 percent of the votes and entered parliament for the first time with 14 seats out of 150.

The result sparked a debate about the neo-Nazi nature of the party, as several of its members are facing charges for violent xenophobic behaviour or Holocaust denial comments on social media.

Some opposition politicians initially suggested they would support sensible legislative proposals by Kotleba. But following a strong backlash in the media, the LSNS has been left isolated, with no prominent chairs in parliamentary committees. The chairs are meant to be fairly distributed between opposition parties based on their votes.

Analysts now predict that the party will use every possibility to grab attention and boost its public support.

Kotleba has promised to use the around €5 million in state subsidies his party will receive to create a militia protecting people it says police have failed to protect – mainly in areas close to Roma settlements.

The party also announced that its members and sympathisers would patrol trains and railway stations to increase the safety of passengers in reaction to an incident early April, when a girl was robbed in a train, with the LSNS claiming the perpetrator was a male Roma.

“The Slovak mainstream politicians will have to try hard to adapt their political discourse to this new reality and prevent a further boost of extremist sentiments in society. Hopefully, they are mentally set up for it,” said Aneta Vilagi.

Slovakia vote shocks Europe and its own society

With a weakened PM, a fragmented parliament and an extreme-right party winning seats for the first time, Slovakia is heading for uncertain times ahead of its EU presidency in July.

Slovakia votes with migrants and corruption in mind

Outgoing social-democratic PM Fico expected to win new mandate Saturday, but might be forced into coalition with right-wingers after a campaign marked by anti-migrant rhetoric and corruption deja vu.

Slovakia to fight EU 'fragmentation'

When they take the presidency of the EU ministers council, Slovak authorities say they will try to avoid divisions on migration, manage the aftermath of the UK referendum and strengthen the single market.

Focus

Ambivalent Slovakia prepares to take EU helm

Prime minister Robert Fico, one of main critics of EU migration policies, is about to lead Slovakia into its first presidency of the EU Council. He says he wants "normal dialogue" but will "not keep silent".

Meat 'taboo' debated at Bonn climate summit

Animal agriculture is responsible for a significant share of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, but until recently it 'was an issue that was really brushed under the carpet'.

Analysis

Sicily: Renzi finds Achilles heel in boot of Italy

Elections in Sicily at the weekend saw Matteo Renzi's Democratic Party trounced into third place - can the one-time wonder kid of Italian politics bounce back in time for 2018's national election?

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