Fico has four-party Slovak coalition within his grasp

Fico has four-party Slovak coalition within his grasp
Prime Minister Robert Fico now looks poised to lead a third government
By Benjamin Cunningham in Bratislava March 15, 2016

Slovak coalition negotiations have taken a sudden turn after elections earlier this month, and Prime Minister Robert Fico now looks poised to lead a third government — this time including the rightwing Slovak National Party (SNS), the Hungarian minority backed Most-Híd, and the centre-right Siet.

But even before the coalition has taken office, defections from the smaller parties have raised questions about the government’s long-term stability on the eve of Slovakia’s turn heading the rotating EU Council presidency for the final six months of 2016.  

“Under normal circumstances, this could not be a government,” says Grigorij Mesežnikov, president of the Institute for Public Affairs in Bratislava. “The first justification for this strange mix is the EU presidency and the second is that it is as a bulwark against extremism,” referencing the strong performance by Marian Kotleba’s extreme rightwing People’s Party-Our Slovakia (LSNS). “The government has the potential to be stable for a year or so,” he adds. 

Events moved quickly over the weekend after SNS shied away from the prospect of forming a right-leaning government led by the libertarian Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) party’s Richard Sulík, which made a centre-right government unviable. Both Siet and Most-Híd then reneged on pledges not to cooperate with Smer and a tentative deal was struck in a matter of hours on March 14. The parties look set to make a formal announcement as soon as March 15.

"Our negotiations were difficult,” Fico said. “But we did not come across questions or topics that would definitively divide us… The result is a draft of programme priorities that is complete.”

Details of that programme remain scant. On paper, a coalition between Fico’s Smer (49 seats), the SNS (15), Most-Híd (11) and the Siet (10) would control 85 seats in the 150-seat parliament, but three MPs from Siet’ have thus far refused to back the deal and Most-Híd’s Zsolt Simon has said he will not support such a government — meaning the government would have the actual support of 81 MPs or less.

Smer would control seven of the 15 cabinet seats, according to Slovak media reports, SNS and Most-Híd three each and Siet’ would get two. Fico would stay on as prime minister, with Smer nominees Peter Kažimír and Miroslav Lajčák to stay on as finance and foreign minister respectively. Interior Minister Robert Kaliňák would also stay in place.

Meanwhile, SNS chairman Andrej Danko looks a likely defense minister and the party is said to be keen on the speaker of parliament post. Most-Híd is requesting either the economic or transport ministry. Siet’s leader Radoslav Procházka or Most-Híd’s Lucia Žitňanská look set to lead the justice ministry, though Žitňanská has previously baulked at the prospect of serving in a Smer government.  

Power trio

Smer therefore looks set to control most of the “power ministries”, but it appears they will relinquish control of the justice ministry — offering at least the prospect of reform in a sphere seen as both an obstacle by business and as riddled with corruption. However, Smer appointees remain entrenched in the key posts in the police, prosecutor’s offices and judiciary. 

“Smer can part with the justice ministry, but cannot accept ambitions to replace Fico, Kaliňák or Kažimír,” Mesežnikov says. “Smer will accept many of the demands from the other parties, for them the priority is to remain in office.”

The health ministry, which has served as a cash cow for Smer-allied businesspeople in recent years, also looks to be going to either SNS or Siet. Depending on who takes it, that ministry could therefore either continue as business as usual or become a victory for reformers.      

With 81 MPs the government does have a viable chance at stability in the near term. They would be wary of repeating what was a public relations disaster for the neighbouring Czech Republic, when the government collapsed in the middle of its 2009 EU presidency.   

Still, dissent from within the country’s centre-right is growing. Miroslav Beblavý recently resigned as deputy chairman of Siet’ after Procházka entered talks with Smer — a move he initially made without first consulting the rest of the party’s leadership by meeting with Kaliňák in secret on March 6. Future prospects for Siet, once thought to be a rising challenger to Smer, look bleak. 

“[Procházka’s] personal decision at this moment remains a mystery to me,” Beblavý told the Slovak daily Denník N. “I do not understand why such a talented, hard-working, successful man is willing to sacrifice the future of his name at age 43, and all for a single government where his party will play the fourth violin.”

Though the SNS has lessened its nationalist bluster under Danko’s leadership, Most-Híd’s multiculturalism appears a likely running source of conflict — in particular as the nationalist SNS eyes control of the culture and education ministries.

“During actual governance this can definitely be a problem,” Mesežnikov, says. “Somehow they will try to postpone those issues as long as possible.”