Two weeks after Andrej Danko withdrawing from the coalition agreement, the relationships between coalition partners remain tense and early election remains an option, albeit a distant and extreme one.
The leader of the nationalist Slovak National Party (SNS) has lost against Prime Minister Robert Fico of Smer in a game he himself began, agree political scene obervers. Danko’s defeat materialised in Fico’s call on Education Minister and SNS nominee Peter Plavčan to resign due to suspicions over the distribution of almost €600 million in EU funds allocated for science and research.
“None of the ruling coalition parties can afford to gamble with the public trust like this,” Fico told journalists in his three-minute speech on August 16.
Fico’s decision to oust Plavčan came as a surprise to Danko, at the moment he was giving an interview to a Týždeň weekly reporter. In his first reaction, he said it was a trap the prime minister has been setting up for SNS for a long time. A few hours later however, he gave a long speech in front of the cameras, in which he admitted that Plavčan would step down and he himself would go away for four days with his sons and think about his future in politics.
Per rollam meeting as a compromise
Danko returned after the four-day break he announced he would take in order to contemplate if and how he would stay in politics.
Yet he did not speak to his coalition partners immediately. First, SNS advised its ministers not to attend the August 23 cabinet meeting the prime minister convened despite coalition issues remaining unresolved. Danko communicated this to his coalition partners through a text message.
Fico’s spokesperson Beatrice Szaboová argued that Fico needed the cabinet to convene due to one point on the session’s programme, passing the stance Fico was to carry to his meeting with the government heads of Austria, the Czech Republic, and French President Emmanuel Macron on the same day.
The SNS insisted that their ministers would not attend the meeting and Danko threatened to create more problems in the coalition if the session took place. In the end the cabinet passed the stance for Fico per rollam – the ministers, including those nominated by the SNS, sent their approval in writing. Observers see this as a compromise solution.
The crisis reached yet another peak due to the cabinet session. The SNS is expected to hold a leadership session on August 24, ahead of the coalition council meeting on Friday, August 25. But the atmosphere in the SNS seemed to be divided, based on the statements of its politicians.
“Many of our members want to leave this government,” Danko told the Plus7dni weekly, and added that it is his duty to talk to the party structures and act according to the will of the members.
SNS MP Dušan Tittel told the Sme daily on August 24 that the party is divided half-half into those who want to leave and those who want to stay.
Early elections not preferred
While the parties of the ruling coalition are officially sticking to their statements that there is no alternative to their government triad and they must continue, the tension in the political scene has also prompted Smer and Most-Híd politicians to question the government’s stability.
“In the situation that has arisen we cannot fulfill our priorities from the government’s programme statement and so it becomes questionable whether it makes sense to continue this way,” the three ministers of Most-Hid stated in their August 24 joint statement.
The fall of the government would most likely lead to early elections in Slovakia. But the standing of the nationalists is not as good as it was a year ago. In the most recent poll from the Focus polling agency from July 2017, the SNS received 10.3 percent of support, compared to August 2016 when it stood at around 14 percent.
Neither do people seem to be inclined towards early elections as a solution to the crisis. Based on the results of a Polis poll for the SITA newswire, on August 18-23, only 24.8 percent of those polled would welcome early elections, while over 54 percent of voters desire the coalition to continue and the three ruling parties to find an agreement.
Plavčan resigns, gives a date
While the future of the SNS in the government remains unclear, it is certain that Education Minister Plavčan will leave the cabinet. Public opinion is positive about this step, with 73.6 percent of those polled by Polis saying that they agree with Fico’s decision to recall Plavčan.
Quite unusually, in his resignation letter to President Andrej Kiska, Plavčan set the date for his resignation for the end of August. This is not common practice. Ministers in Slovakia usually submit their resignation to the president, and as soon as the president accepts the resignation it becomes effective and they cease to be ministers, Sme noted.
SNS has not come up with Plavčan’s replacement yet. The SNS and its leader Danko are currently preoccupied with the coalition crisis and they are planning to present their demands at the coalition meeting scheduled for August 25.
The most frequently mentioned person for the post is Eva Smolíková, currently an SMS MP. She has not confirmed this.
The SNS is still insisting on the original reason as to why Danko declared his withdrawal from the coalition agreement – to redefine the rules in the coalition and adjust priorities towards the improved economic situation in the country.
The SNS has made public some of the demands they were planning to present at the coalition meeting. They will insist on new rules for the 13th and 14th salary, which should not be taxed based on their demands.
Fico has suggested he is not opposed to the new rules, and even representatives for employers admitted that they could support the proposal. They only expressed concerns that it might turn into a political issue.
Another one of the SNS’ proclaimed demands is stricter rules on publishing the property returns of public officials.
“If the government really has such interest in fighting corruption, it must act as an example,” Danko stated.
Smer is expected to present its own demands to the coalition council.