Slovakia's tottering minority coalition government is facing a hot autumn, with a vote of confidence expected in Finance Minister Igor Matovic, and a referendum set to be held on bringing it down. In a sign of its future problems, on Wednesday only 71 deputies voted to start a session in the parliament, for which 75 votes is needed, and the session had to be postponed to September 20.
The political turmoil comes as the government needs to agree and pass a number of measures to combat the deepening inflation and energy crisis that threatens to lead to hardship and domestic unrest.
This month Slovakia saw a protracted cabinet crisis climax with the rightwing SaS party leaving the ruling coalition. Prime Minister Eduard Heger (OLaNO) can now only count on around 70 seats in the 150-member parliament.
SaS said it will back those moves of Heger’s cabinet which are in line with the coalition agreement which SaS signed two years ago. The party also said it will try to remove Matovic, leader of OLaNO, whose behaviour as finance minister was the spark for it to leave the cabinet. Opposition parties are expected to launch a vote of no-confidence in him in him in the coming days, a move that could accelerate the disintegration of the cabinet.
"It still remains to be seen what game Sulik will play in opposition," Milan Nic, senior fellow at the German Council of Foreign Relations (DGAP), told bne IntelliNews in a telephone interview. "He doesn't want elections too soon and to get the blame. There's still a possibility they will muddle through until it's in the interest of a majority in parliament to have early elections."
Nic also pointed that Slovakia can scarcely afford at the moment to go into election mode and neglect the ongoing cost of living crisis. "To have a government that is not working for three months in this crisis, this would cause a break-up of institutions," he warned.
Slovak President Zuzana Caputova has given the cabinet some breathing space by this week referring a referendum for snap elections proposed by a petition organised by former premier Robert Fico's Smer-SD to the constitutional court.
The first referendum questions asks "Do you agree that the government of Slovakia should resign immediately?" After consulting lawyers, Caputova found this question could possibly contradict the Slovak constitution. The constitution defines the parliamentary term as having four years.
The constitutional court ruling will determine the contents of the referendum, which Caputova said on Monday she will call with at least one question. The second question asks voters whether they support the adoption of a constitutional change making it possible to shorten a parliament by referendum or by the parliament’s decision, and enabling a snap election.
“A referendum will take place with one question at a minimum and it is up to the constitutional court whether the referendum will take place with two questions”, said Caputova at a press conference, adding that the referendum will be called by the end of this year.
Caputova recalled last year’s constitutional court ruling about a similar referendum, stipulating that a referendum or any other means not outlined by the Slovak constitution cannot end the valid term of a Slovak government.
Opposition leaders have criticised Caputova’s decision to consult the constitutional court again, arguing the referendum could have been called already and held at the same time as local elections, next month, boosting the turnout. Referendums need at least a 50% turnout, something only the 2003 vote on joining the EU has so far managed of the eight referendums held so far.
The petition was started in June by Fico's Smer-SD party and could act as a way to enable him to return to power. Fico was forced to step down in March 2018 amid protests over the killing of journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancé. In August the petition reached the quorum of 350.000 signatures necessary for authorities to respond.
Caputova has also accepted Heger's nominees for the vacated cabinet posts. On Tuesday she appointed former Slovak ambassador to the US Rastislav Kacer to head the foreign ministry, energy expert Karel Hirman to the economy ministry and lawyer Viliam Karas to head the justice ministry. Heger will temporarily be in charge of the vacated education portfolio.