Slovak president nominates central banker after PM quits

Slovak president nominates central banker after PM quits
Ludovit Odor: "Something between a builder, a doctor and an interpreter”. / Ludovit Odor's blog
By Robert Anderson in Prague May 7, 2023

Slovak Prime Minister Eduard Heger resigned on May 7 when his position became untenable after a series of resignations from his caretaker cabinet.

President Zuzana Caputova has nominated National Bank of Slovakia Vice-Governor Ludovit Odor to lead a technocratic cabinet until snap elections are held in September. Slovakia needs "stability, order, expertise and a return to decent politics", Caputova said.

The appointment of a technocratic cabinet – Slovakia’s first – is the death knell for the centre-right coalition that took office in March 2020 following the mass demonstrations against Prime Minister Robert Fico after the murder of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiance.

The political chaos could pave the way for a return to power for Fico, who has followed Hungarian strongman Viktor Orban by moving to the radical right and by pledging not to give military support to Ukraine.

Heger had made a televised address on Friday May 5 in which he admitted that Slovakia was in “a serious crisis, a crisis of chaos” but appealed to the president to let him continue. However, his position was immediately undermined by the resignation of Foreign Minster Rastislav Kacer, who called the address “terrible stupidity”.

Kacer’s resignation followed the resignation of Agriculture Minister Samuel Vlčan over a corruption scandal, and left a total of four cabinet positions empty, making it impossible for the government to continue. Caretaker governments cannot nominate new ministers from outside the cabinet.

Caputova had tried to avoid appointing a technocrat cabinet, fearing it might damage her chances of re-election next year, but she had little choice following the government’s implosion.

“The big problem is that she will now become the target,” Miroslav Wlachovsky, foreign affairs adviser to Heger, told bne IntelliNews. “All the other politicians can blame her for everything.”

Odor, 46, has been National Bank of Slovakia vice-governor since 2018. On his blog he says: “My ideology is pragmatism, economic policy based on modern methods and data and the belief that a successful society needs educated people, reasonable rules and quality institutions. I have always tried to be a multifunctional economist: something between a builder, a doctor and an interpreter.”

There had been great hopes in the new government when it took office three years ago following Fico’s corrupt rule. However, the incompetent leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic of Igor Matovic, head of the populist OLaNO party, and the breakdown of his relations with Richard Sulik, leader of the libertarian SaS party, cost the government its majority. SaS eventually joined the opposition to vote the government down in a vote of no-confidence in December, leaving Heger, prime minister since 2021, to continue in a caretaker capacity.

As had happened in 2012, the only thing that united the right was their opposition to Fico, but this was not enough to sustain their government for a full term.

The latest bout of political turbulence is likely to further boost the opposition parties, led by Fico’s Smer, which currently occupy the top three positions in opinion polls as Slovaks struggle to cope with the cost of living crisis.

The political crisis will also cause further shifts in support among the parties on the centre-right. It could strangle at birth the uncharismatic Heger’s new party, the Democrats, which he founded after his split from Matovic.

On the other hand, the technocratic government may also allow the centre-right parties to regroup and retain enough support to prevent Fico’s return to power.

“If [Fico] could blame Matovic or Heger it would be much better for him,” says Wlachovsky. “Now it’s a different game to face a government of experts. I don’t think it’s to the benefit of Fico.

“If this new government calms down the situation, that will be very much appreciated by the Slovak general public. If people are tired of something in this country it is the political quarrels,” Wlachovsky says.