Slovak coalition partner calls for early elections as government crumbles

Slovak coalition partner calls for early elections as government crumbles
Interior Minister Robert Kalinak: “I will do much more for the investigators and their ability to work in peace if I resign.”
By bne IntelliNews March 13, 2018

One of Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico's junior coalition parties has called for early elections to solve the country's political crisis over the murder of a journalist investigating links between the mafia and the government office. Unless the leftwing premier can persuade the centrist Most-Hid party to stay, or find other support in parliament, Slovakia looks set for snap elections that could end Fico's more than decade-long domination of the political scene.

After a meeting that finished at 10.30pm on March 12, Most-Hid leader Bela Bugar announced that "we think only the early election can solve the situation". The party will now negotiate within the coalition in favour of early elections and if it is unable to persuade its partners, it will leave.

On March 13 Interior Minister Robert Kalinak finally resigned following demands from Most-Hid and huge public demonstrations, but it now seems too little, too late. Kalinak, a close ally of Fico and the second most powerful figure in the ruling Smer party, had long been a focus of opposition and public anger because of his close links with controversial businessmen. Opposition parties argued that he could not be trusted to investigate the scandal that broke when Jan Kuciak was assassinated in a mafia-style hit on February 24-25.

“I will do much more for the investigators and their ability to work in peace if I resign,” Kalinak said. “What we need is stability so that people can really enjoy the results of our work so that those results can be projected into their lives,” added Kalinak.

“My chair has never been important to me. The important thing is that we put the murderers in front of a court,” said Kaliňák.

“We need to know why and we need to know who,” Kaliňák said about the murder investigation and supported Police Corps President Tibor Gaspar, who also faces pressure surrounding alleged misconduct during the investigation. “Tibor Gaspar is the strongest and best police president we have ever had,” Kalinak said.

The murder of Kuciak has electrolysed simmering discontent with corruption in the country, sparking big demonstrations and giving opposition parties and President Andrej Kiska the opportunity to try to bring down Fico's government. Kalinak has often been the focus of this: he survived a no-confidence vote in parliament on December 7, 2017, after thousands of Slovaks marched in Bratislava and other cities calling for action on longstanding accusations connected to the Bestarnak affair. Kuciak had also published articles about the involvement of Smer politicians in the tax fraud affair, which implicated Kalinak and former industry minister Jan Pociatek.

On March 8, additional pressure was put on Kalinak as a prosecutor of the Special Prosecutor’s Office, Vasil Spirko, lodged a criminal complaint against the minister of interior and top police officials including Gaspar. The complaint is related to a separate case ,B.A. Haus, part of the Basternak tax fraud affair. Spirko accused Kalinak of sabotage and being involved in a system designed to launder money from corruption.

The departure of Kalinak is not enough for the opposition and demonstrators. The strongest opposition party Freedom and Solidarity, a rightwing Eurosceptic party, has lodged a no-confidence vote. Organisers of the latest demonstrations, during which around 50,000 protested against the government on Friday, March 9, are also asking for a new government.

“His [Kalinak’s] departure has to be the very beginning. The beginning of the great cleaning. Because it is a legitimate demand of the civil society to ask for a country, where corruption is not a standard. Where there is no connection to organiaed crime among the government circle,” published the organisers on Facebook.

President Kiska met representatives of the third coalition party, the far right Slovak National Party (SNS), on March 12. SNS hold a meeting earlier the same day and at around 1 pm announced that it is ready for a debate about the vision of the government reconstruction of President Kiska, Smer-SD and Most-Hid. “We are united in the party. SNS won’t be blocking this [government overhaul] and won’t defend any office. Not even mine,” said the chairman of SNS Andrej Danko.

PM Fico has defended Kalinak after he announced his resignation. "I understand the departure of Robert Kaliňák first and foremost as his personal contribution to stability, maintaining democracy, and making possible the continuation of positive politics for the people," said Fico.

"We can thank him [Kalinak] for the problem-free introduction of the Schengen rules, fewer road accidents, and the ability to travel visa-free. Robert was one of the most talented ministers in all the governments that I have led," Fico praised his long-term friend.