Slovak Prime Minister Eduard Heger has left the ruling OLaNO party and will fight the snap elections this September as leader of a new party, the Democrats.
He will remain as premier in a caretaker capacity until the September 30 election, which opinion polls show would currently we won by two opposition centre-left parties, the populist Smer of former premier Robert Fico, and the more moderate Hlas party of former premier Peter Pellegrini.
Heger's departure is another body blow for the OLaNO party of former premier Igor Matovic, whose erratic behaviour since winning the 2020 election has pushed the centre-right populist party's support down to just 7 per cent, according to opinion polls, and led to the collapse of the four-party centre-right coalition.
It will also worsen the divisions on the centre-right of the Slovak political spectrum, where five parties are now competing for support. This risks wasting votes, if some of the parties fall below the 5% threshold to enter parliament, and will make it even more difficult for stable governments to be formed. By contrast, there are only two centre-left parties and one liberal formation, the Progressives.
“We offer moderate centrist politics,” Heger told journalists present at a noontime press conference on March 7, and stressed that “we reject populism”.
He said “we want to change the atmosphere in Slovakia” and that his “goal is for Slovakia to have a democratic and pro-European government” after the September elections.
Heger defined his platform in opposition to Fico's Smer party, the Hlas party of Fico’s ex- colleague Robert Pellegrini, as well as the country's two neo-fascist parties.
The new party also includes several other cabinet ministers, including Minister of Defence Jaroslav Nad, also formerly of OLaNO, as well as independent ministers Rastislav Kacer (foreign affairs), Karol Hirman (industry) and Jan Budaj (environment).
Two former members of the Spolu party that turned into the Blue Alliance have also joined, MP Miroslav Kollar, and MEP Vladimir Bilcik.
The formation of the new party follows the collapse of former premier Mikulas Dzurinda's attempt to found his own party to rouse the centre-right before the election.
“Slovakia is on fire now,” Kollar said, but he added there is “no reason to be resigned” or “to think that Slovakia will cease to be a pro-European country” after the September elections.
Heger and Kollar told the media that their vision is to unite democratic politicians under an agenda which is rather centre-right than right-wing and whose pillars include “green themes” and “care for the weak” along with “security and resilience” “strong regions and civil society”. History shows that when democrats cooperate, Slovakia goes forward, Heger said.
“We don’t want Putin’s army on our border,” Heger declared in a clear sign of the continuation of his and Nad’s policy of military and humanitarian support of Ukraine. “We don’t want oligarchy and the return of mafia, in other words, that which Fico’s rule represented,” Heger stated.
When asked by a journalist about his rejection of Pellegrini, whose Hlas party splintered off Fico’s Smer and has profiled itself as a more pro-European social democratic party, Heger reiterated, “yes, we reject Mr Pellegrini too” and listed members from Hlas who he claimed were entangled in the corruption scandals of Smer's eight years in power.
Heger highlighted that police investigations into corruption need to be safeguarded from outside influence, and that minorities need protection, referring to the tragic killing of young homosexuals in front of an LGBTQ+ bar in Bratislava last autumn.
Budaj told the media, “these elections will be about the identity of Slovakia,” and the new party is here for voters who don’t want the return of a “captured state", alluding not just to Fico’s era but also the 1990s era of Vladimir Meciar which Budaj said had prolonged totalitarian rule in Slovakia to 50 years.
Heger had announced his departure from OLaNO late on Monday evening in a post on his Facebook profile. “I have my own vision. I know how to accomplish it, I have to go my own way,” Heger posted, ending weeks of speculations.
The protracted conflict between Matovic and Richard Sulik, the leader of the neoliberal SaS party, led to the collapse of the centre-right coalition that had been brought to power in 2020 by a wave of disgust with Fico’s long rule, which ended in mass protests over the contract killing of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancé Martina Kusnirova.