Sacking of Slovenian defence minister could trigger cabinet crisis

By bne IntelliNews April 10, 2015

bne IntelliNews -


The Slovenian parliament voted on April 9 to dismiss Defence Minister Janko Veber. Prime Minister Miro Cerar asked MPs to dismiss the minister after accusing him of overstepping his powers when ordering the intelligence services to prepare a report on the consequences of Telekom Slovenije's pending privatisation.

Veber’s party, the Slovenian Social Democrats (SD), is now considering whether to remain in the ruling coalition alongside the Party of Miro Cerar (SMC).

Cerar made the proposal to dismiss Veber on March 31, the day after he asked the minister to submit his resignation. Cerar said that Veber had failed to adequately explain why he had singlehandedly engaged the intelligence services to analyse the impact of the ongoing sale on the country's defence system.

A total of 68 MPs in the 90-seat assembly voted in favour of the dismissal, while 11 were against, according to the parliament website.

Veber's removal from office was supported by MPs from the SMC and its junior coalition party, the Pensioners' Party DeSUS, as well as the opposition Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS), New Slovenia (NSi) and the Alliance of Alenka Bratusek (ZaAB).

The third coalition member - the SD, of which Veber is a member - voted against his dismissal together with the opposition United Left (ZL).

Veber will be temporarily replaced by SD leader Dejan Zidan, who is also Slovenia's agriculture minister. The party leadership is expected to announce on Friday, April 10, whether SD will remain in the governing coalition. If so, it will start consultations with candidates to succeed Veber.

Party statements so far indicate that the SD is standing behind Veber and believes he had been acting in line with the rules. Matjaž Han, the head of the SD’s parliamentary group, said in an address to the parliament on April 9 that Veber had acted responsibly, and called on MPs to consider the request for his dismissal without political bias.

However, even if SD decides to leave the cabinet the government will retain a parliamentary majority of 46 seats, so a return to the political uncertainty Slovenia experienced in 2014 after the resignation of former Prime Minister Alenka Bratušek’s government is not expected.

An opinion poll carried out by daily Delo and published on April 7 showed that the popularity of Cerar's government had dropped since March, with only 22% of respondents voicing a positive opinion of the government, while 52% had a negative opinion. However, his party remained more popular than its rivals.

Privatisation is one of the most contentious issues in Slovenian politics today. In February, thousands of people demonstrated in Ljubljana against the government’s privatisation programme, which they said would push up unemployment.

The sale of Telekom Slovenije is particularly sensitive, since it is the largest of 15 major state-owned companies earmarked for sale under the privatisation programme adopted in 2013.

The sale has been delayed several times, but according to Reuters, binding bids are expected to be submitted for the the government's 73% stake in the company in the week of April 13. Deutsche Telekom and several buyout firms from the US and Europe are reportedly in the race. In January, UK-based private equity firm Cinven became the latest potential bidder to confirm its interest in the ongoing privatisation, hinting that annual investments in the company could amount to €100mn.

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