SPECULATION on a shakeup in Smer on the heels of Robert Fico’s unsuccessful presidential run and amid falling approval ratings had been flying in the air for months. Smer officials however kept denying that any major reshuffles were in the pipeline, and that any changes would be related to Smer’s poorer than expected performance in the regional elections and the vote to the European Parliament – not Fico. Nevertheless, two ministers of Smer’s one-party government, Education Minister Dušan Čaplovič and Economy Minister Tomáš Malatinský, stepped down on July 2, just days after Smer held an extraordinary party congress.

Čaplovič will be replaced at the helm of the Education Ministry by Finance Ministry State Secretary Peter Pellegrini, whom the ruling party elected as deputy chair at its June 28 congress. The new economy minister will be Pavol Pavlis, who has served as the ministry’s state secretary until now.

The working congress of the ruling Smer party at the end of June brought a number of additional changes in its leadership. Smer replaced its deputy chair, Vladimír Maňka, who also works as the party’s MEP, with Pellegrini.

However, Maňka, who is the head of Smer’s delegation in the faction of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament, is expected to return to the top leadership of the party, as SITA newswire reported on June 30. Fico said he would like Maňka to attend meetings of Smer’s top management.

Fico indeed admitted that recently Smer has failed to discuss the condition of the party, adding that cases of arrogance among party members have emerged.

“I’m saddened as party chairman to see expressions of arrogance at the regional level,” he said, as quoted by the TASR newswire. “Some of our representatives have stopped communicating with mayors and underestimate the value of feedback. Because of this, there will be changes not only in the party echelons but also at lower levels.”

Regional top party chairs are encouraged to table proposals for personnel changes concerning district chairs, if changes are needed, TASR reported.

Regional and district party councils are expected to carry out personnel audits of nominees in state managerial posts and public administration.

“It happens sometimes that a party nominee makes a bad reputation for Smer,” Fico said, as quoted by TASR. “There are only two criteria - whether they fail morally or fail in the area of their expertise.... We need to act as social democrats in all spheres. Unfortunately, that is not always the case.”

Culture Minister Marek Maďarič, who offered his resignation as Smer deputy chair following the presidential election, thus taking responsibility as the leader of Fico’s presidential campaign, was re-elected to his post during the June 28 summit. Maďarič said that the changes Smer plans to implement persuaded him to share the party’s leadership.

“I have seen on our political scene stories of large political parties who paid high bills for ruling,” Maďarič said, as quoted by SITA newswire.

Maďarič said that he has never considered leaving Smer and admitted that he shares responsibility for what is happening within the party.

Fico commented that by electing two deputy chairs, Smer is complete and that this will be the team that leads the party to the communal elections during the fall, SITA newswire reported.

Who is Pellegrini?

Pellegrini, a politician with Italian roots, is an economist with a background in finance, and banking. Between 2002 and 2006 he was a deputy assistant for Ľubomír Vážny and in 2006 Smer elected him to parliament. Since 2012, he served as state secretary of the Finance Ministry.

His role will be to attract young people to the party as Pellegrini, responsible for the development of digital-communication media, said that the younger generation often considers Smer to be outdated when it comes to the digital sphere, Sme reported.

“We are the Khmer Rouge for them, who deal only with trade unions and the Labour Code,” Pellegrini said, as quoted by Sme.

Pellegrini has said that he will forever remain a proud central-Slovak, suggesting that “he does not want to be gotten in by this kind of life in Bratislava, which is beautiful, but nevertheless is a bubble”, according to Sme.