Slovakia is in 'serious crisis', prime minister admits in nationwide address

Slovakia is in 'serious crisis', prime minister admits in nationwide address
Slovakia is in “a serious crisis, a crisis of chaos”, Prime Minister Eduard Heger told TV viewers. / bne IntelliNews
By Albin Sybera May 5, 2023

Slovakia is in “a serious crisis, a crisis of chaos”, caretaker Prime Minister Eduard Heger admitted in an exceptional address to the nation on Thursday, May 4.

Heger's unannounced address appears to be an attempt to forestall President Zuzana Caputova appointing a technocratic cabinet to govern the country amid the growing chaos following the vote of no-confidence in December. Slovak are struggling to cope with the cost of living crisis and opinion polls indicate opposition parties are set to win snap elections in September, though forming a stable government will remain problematic. 

Heger said his task was to steer the country to early elections, and he cannot imagine that a technocratic cabinet would be appointed at this stage a few months before the September 30 vote.

Existing cabinet members would be replaced by people “who might have good intentions,” but would have little time to acquire “experience” or “key ties abroad”, Heger explained and warned that “the stability we managed to keep” would be threatened.

Heger’s words come amid continued political rows and ahead of several key votes in the Slovak parliament. In the latest scandal, Agriculture Minister Samuel Vlčan (OĽaNO party nominee) resigned after it was revealed his waste company received a €1/4mn subsidy from the Ministry of the Environment, run by Ján Budaj (Democrats party).

Caputova – who is the most respected politician in Slovakia according to opinion polls – is believed to be reluctant to form her own technocratic government but she may feel she no longer has any choice in the mounting chaos. Such a government would still need a vote of confidence in parliament and could harm the president's chances of re-election. Caputova has said she will decide soon whether to stand for a second term next year.

Analysts agree that the outcome of the September elections could lead to a significant reorientation of Slovak foreign policy.

The country has been one of the most active supporters of Ukraine, providing Kyiv with military and humanitarian aid in its efforts to fight the Russian invasion. Former Slovak strongman Robert Fico, who has moved to an openly pro-Russian position, is in the lead in the polls, and he has pledged to end the military support of Ukraine.

Slovakia’s cabinet fell at the end of 2022 after protracted internal conflicts and disputes between Igor Matovic, leader of the populist OLaNO party. and Richard Sulik, leader of the neoliberal SaS party. Heger, who had replaced Matovic as premier, resigned from the OLaNO party in March and will fight the elections as leader of a new party, the Democrats.

In Thursday’s address, Heger said that political chaos – which had erupted already during the COVID-19 pandemic – had been magnified by the government's mistakes.

Heger also took part of the blame for the chaos, saying he “tolerated arguing between Matovic and Sulik” to “maintain consensus in the ruling coalition and prevent instability", and that "today, I know this contributed to greater chaos in the country” . 

Politicians reacted with surprise to Heger's address. Michal Simecka, leader of the liberal Progressive Slovakia party, which is running third in opinion polls and in which Caputova used to be vice-chair, commented: "I don't think it's normal for a prime minister, whose government is facing suspicion for misallocating millions in subsidy, to abuse the special space of public television instead of giving an explanation [of the Vlcan case]. It is not normal that Heger as the leader of a collapsed government should style himself as a protector of the country from chaos." 

In the latest developments on Friday, May 5, Minister of Foreign Affairs Rastislav Kacer formally asked President Caputova to step down, in another sign that the caretaker cabinet is falling apart. 

Kacer also criticised Heger for his Thursday address. Heger "just made her [Caputova's] decision-making easier," Kacer commented on Facebook.