Slovak coalition already in danger

By bne IntelliNews August 2, 2010

Tom Nicholson in Bratislava -

Barely three weeks into its term, the new centre-right Slovak government of Iveta Radicova is already in danger of losing its parliamentary majority. A quartet of political rookies calling themselves "Ordinary People" is threatening to quit the ruling coalition if the cabinet doesn't adopt its reform platform.

Radicova's four-party coalition commands only 79 of 150 seats in the legislature. The departure of the Ordinary People faction would leave the government one seat short of the majority it needs to pass laws, and the prime minister has already rejected the possibility of a minority government. "In no circumstances would I want to lead a minority government - it's not a solution," she told the TA3 news channel at the end of July.

The situation has few parallels in Slovakia's brief but turbulent political history since splitting from the Czech Republic in 1993. Ordinary People isn't registered as a political party and has no mandate from voters. The group's leader, Igor Matovic, actually ran for parliament with his colleagues on the ticket of the liberal Freedom and Solidarity party, itself a newcomer to the political scene. Since winning a seat in the June 12 elections, Matovic has insisted that the coalition honour at least some of Ordinary People's 48 demands, which include downsizing parliament from 150 seats to 100 and requiring that state offices return fees to people whose requests they don't process within the allotted time. "We're not laying down any conditions, we're just demanding that the country's two highest state representatives keep the promises they made to us," said Matovic, referring to Radicova and Freedom and Solidarity leader Richard Sulik, who serves as speaker of parliament. Matovic claims that Sulik and Radicova promised him that the cabinet would adopt some of his ideas. "We're not trying to tear down this government."

Beyond understanding

But Matovic may achieve just that if he doesn't call off his rebellion before Tuesday, August 3, when the government's programme manifesto is put to a confidence vote in parliament.

While he officially remains part of the Freedom and Solidarity caucus, Matovic has taken some withering criticism from Sulik. "Some of their demands are beyond understanding, others would have been better written by my three-year-old son Hugo," said the legislature's new boss. "I don't regard him as a reliable partner. He's the kind of person who needs to see his name in the media."

Their relationship was never going to be an easy one. Sulik is a free-market advocate who promotes registered partnerships for homosexuals and the decriminalization of marijuana. He is a policy wonk who matured at the elbow of Finance Minister Ivan Miklos, and designed Slovakia's 19% flat tax introduced under the 2002-2006 Mikulas Dzurinda government. Matovic on the other hand is a conservative Catholic who owns a 16-page advertising flier he distributes to households across Slovakia. Over the past decade he has written a back page screed in which he has called for less corruption, fewer perks for politicians and tougher action against the country's Roma population. It was thanks to his mostly rural readership that he was elected to parliament along with his Ordinary People colleagues, who include his cousin and an employee.

But Matovic's apostasy appears to open no doors to opposition leader and former PM Robert Fico, who actually won the June elections with 35% support but was unable to form a government. Fico, who had been expected to continue in power, accused Matovic of political extortion, of trying to "increase his sale price" by prevaricating. Matovic meanwhile told Fico to "stop sending people to me with offers of money" for my cooperation."

"I may be disappointed, but I have no intention of helping Robert Fico return to the trough," he said. Corruption watchdogs say the Fico government coincided with an upsurge in graft in Slovakia.

Political pundit Laszlo Ollos said that Matovic was unlikely to bring down the government so early in its term, largely because he would risk losing the support he had built up through his advertising flier diatribes. "But it's clear that this government will have a difficult time if this Ordinary People faction begins acting like a pressure group and doesn't feel bound to vote for every law."

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