PRIME MINISTER Mikuláš Dzurinda refused to recall Economy Minister Robert Nemcsics and Deputy Transport Minister Branislav Opaterný from their posts on August 27.
Pavol Rusko, head of the ruling New Citizen's Alliance (ANO), called for the move after the party announced it no longer had confidence in the two men it had nominated to the government.
"I couldn't have accepted this request, as it had no constitutional grounds," Dzurinda told journalists after he had made the decision and added that Nemcsics is an "active member of the government, who fulfils his duties".
Although government positions are distributed between political parties by the coalition agreement, which gives them freedom to decide who takes up the positions in ministries granted to them, the constitution gives the prime minister powers to decide when and whom to throw out of the government.
"The post belongs to ANO. However, it is not free at the moment," said Dzurinda, who hopes ANO will manage to resolve the issue within its own ranks.
Rusko did not seem surprised at the developments.
"I would have been surprised had he reacted otherwise," said Rusko about Dzurinda, according to the SITA news agency.
"It is up to the Economy Minister to deal with the fact that he has the confidence of the PM, but has lost that of the party which put him into office," he said.
In his reaction, Nemcsics said that it was not feasible to remain in office without party support. However, on August 27, Nemcsics told journalists that he would leave office but did not specify when.
Opaterný, on the other hand, had announced earlier that he would not voluntarily leave office.
"If I am to be recalled, the (transport) minister must propose that move and if the cabinet decides that I should leave the post, I will respect that decision," Opaterný said.
Nemcsics and Opaterný would have become the first two ministerial officials to be ousted from the new Dzurinda cabinet founded after the 2002 national elections.
Rusko confirmed that the decision to oust the officials from their posts was motivated by their recent statements in the press, in which Nemcsics and Opaterný were critical of Rusko's practices in ANO.
While Nemcsics said that Rusko used ANO as a vehicle for his own interests, Opaterný compared the practices of the ANO boss to those of Stalin.
At an August 25 press conference Rusko announced that, at a meeting of ANO's board, they had voted to recall the ministerial officials. Nemcsics and Opaterný, who are both members of that board, abstained in the vote in which all the others present voted against them.
"Our debate took more than two hours, and it was a civilized discussion. No one shouted at anyone. There is a time to come together and sometimes there is a time to split. We agreed that the latter case has come now," Rusko said.
Rusko's coalition partners refused to comment on the development in ANO, dubbing it an internal party affair.
The media has, in recent weeks, pointed out the growing affinity between Dzurinda's SDKÚ and Nemcsics, who has said that in politics one can "never say never" when asked about the possibility of joining SDKÚ.
Analysts were nonetheless not expecting the developments and instead believed that Dzurinda would "most likely accept Rusko's proposal for the recalls," according to political analyst Michal Vašecka from the Institute for Public Affairs think thank.
Vašečka warned that by refusing personnel changes, Dzurinda would "unnecessarily complicate the situation in the coalition".
Apart from his party problems, Rusko continues to be in conflict with the police and the Interior Ministry, led by a minister from the coalition Christian Democrats (KDH) party.
In a continued investigation of Rusko's business activities before he entered parliament in autumn 2002, Rusko is suspected of having committed six crimes between 1998 and 2001 including blackmail.
Only recently the investigators handed in a request to attorney general Milan Hanzel's office to ask parliament to strip Rusko, a deputy speaker, of his immunity so that the allegations can be properly tried.
Rusko says, however, that the investigation was politically ordered "in order to discredit [him] and destroy ANO" and accused the KDH, whose nominee Vladimír Palko leads the Interior Ministry, of misusing the police to that end.
In an official statement sent to The Slovak Spectator on August 26, KDH chairman Pavol Hrušovský said that Rusko "has for a longer time now been accusing state bodies and the KDH of uniting against him. We categorically refute such allegations".
According to Vašečka, Rusko builds his allegations on "faulty thinking" and that "as soon as he lost his parliamentary immunity, he would quite likely start taking steps to destroy this government".
The attorney general is now studying the investigator's proposal and is expected to decide within two weeks on his further steps in the matter.
2. Sep 2003 at 0:00 | Martina Pisárová & Lukáš Fila