Pellegrini’s cabinet bets on a non-partisan interior minister

Nine ministers remain unchanged, the interior to be led by “a man from Drucker’s team”. Here are the names Pellegrini wants in his cabinet.

Jozef Ráž is proposed to become the new interior minister. Jozef Ráž is proposed to become the new interior minister. (Source: Sme)

President Andrej Kiska assigned Peter Pellegrini the task of forming a new cabinet on Thursday, March 15. By the following Monday afternoon, Pellegrini was ready to present the new list of ministers to the president. With the exception of the justice minister, only Smer is making changes in its ministerial nominations. Out of the 15 members of the Robert Fico cabinet, nine stay put in their ministerial chairs.

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“We were mainly aiming to calm the political situation and we sought nominations that would not raise controversy,” the designated PM Peter Pellegrini said after Smer chairman, the outgoing prime minister Robert Fico, announced the names of ministers that Smer and its coalition partners nominated to be part of the new cabinet.

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A man from Drucker’s team

The development of the past two weeks made it clear that the government reshuffles would mostly concern the culture, justice, and interior departments.

Robert Kaliňák, Smer’s deputy chair and a three-time interior minister who promised to resign from his post following the controversies surrounding the investigation of the murder of journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancee, Martina Kusnirova, will be replaced in the post by Jozef Ráž.

Jozef Ráž Jr, who goes by the same name as his father, the front man the popular band Elán that was a devout supporter of Vladimír Mečiar in the 1990s, has worked as the general secretary of the service office at the Health Ministry.

“We said we wanted a crisis manager who is not a member of the party,” Pellegrini said and admitted that he even considered Health Minister Tomáš Drucker as the possible replacement for Kaliňák.

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Drucker was nominated for the top Health Ministry post as a “crisis manager”; he is not a Smer member. However, he declined the offer to switch for the interior department and proposed Ráž, a man from his team, according to Pellegrini.

The Interior Ministry is set to be one of the most closely watched departments, due to the ongoing murder investigation and the concerns about its independence, as well as public pressure to change the Police Corps President.

Pellegrini and Fico announced that Ráž’s priority in post should be a change in the election of the top police boss, which should become effective in the course of 2018.

Prior to March 19, the most frequently mentioned name when discussing the possible replacement for Robert Kalinak was the Interior Ministry’s State Secretary, Denisa Saková. Critics of Smer, however, believed that Sakova was Kalinak’s right-hand woman at the ministry, and feared that her nomination would bring no real change to the department leadership.

Read also: Peter Pellegrini to become new prime minister. Who is he? Read more 

Gál will replace Žitňanská

Lucia Žitňanská of Most-Híd announced on March 14 that she was not going to continue as minister in the new government. Most-Hid leader, Béla Bugár, said that her departure is a result of an agreement within the coalition. The coalition partner Slovak National Party (SNS) has made it clear even before Fico’s resignation that they wanted Žitňanská to go. In the weeks prior to the outbreak of the political crisis in Slovakia, the SNS and Žitňanská argued over the ratification of the Istanbul Convention.

Žitňanská is one of the ministers who has been systematically working on introducing reforms in the judiciary towards transparency. She will now be replaced in the ministerial chair by her party colleague, attorney Gábor Gál. He and Žitňanská have voiced similar opinions on some crucial issues in the past.

When the Bašternák scandal was shaking the Slovak political scene in 2016, both Zitnanska and Gal publicly said they believed Kalinak should resign from the interior minister post. Just like Žitňanská, Gál also criticised Smer’s Monika Jankovská, who wanted to get elected as a member of the Judicial Council from the post of the Justice Ministry’s state secretary, the Sme daily noted.

Raši is back

Another two Most-Híd’s ministers are not leaving their departments: Arpad Ersek remains the transport minister, and his party colleague, László Solymos, maintains the environment minister post. Solymos will receive the title of deputy prime minister (previously held by the outgoing justice minister, Lucia Žitňanská).

The three ministers nominated by the SNS for the defence, education, and agriculture posts, will also stay put under the new government.

Smer also needed to find a replacement for Marek Madaric, who resigned as culture minister shortly after the murder of the journalist and his fiancee. Erik Tomáš, the head of Fico’s communication team and former journalist, was mentioned repeatedly, but his name raised controversy among the public. VIPs of Slovak cultural life have drafted a call on Smer not to nominate Tomáš.

In the end, Smer selected Ľubica Laššáková, a prominent member of the party’s Banská Bystrica branch. She has a history as a media professional, working for the public-service Slovak Radio, among others, as Fico noted.

The post of the deputy prime minister for investment, which will be vacant after Pellegrini becomes PM, will be taken by Richard Raši, the boss of Smer in Košice, former interior minister, and Košice Mayor, who failed to be voted in for regional governor of the eastern-Slovak region last year.

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