The leader of the Direction party, Robert Fico, will be appointed Slovak prime minister for the fourth time on Wednesday. After the coalition Slovak National Party (SNS) replaced the candidate for Minister of the Environment, who was bothering President Zuzana Čaputová, nothing stands in the way of the new “patriotic” government coming into being.
Instead of the mayor and hunting official Rudolf Huliak, another representative of the SNS, Tomáš Taraba, will become the Minister of the Environment. He is also labeled as a xenophobic conspiracist and enemy of nature conservationists in some media, but the president no longer disputed his candidacy.
How will the complex coexistence between Čaputová and Fic continue? Will the new government coalition put up its own candidate in the presidential elections next spring? And are various concerns about Fico’s government justified?
List The news asked the Slovak political scientist Jozef Lenč from the University of St. Cyril and Methodius in Trnava these questions.
Will the further process of appointing and starting Fico’s government and its approval in parliament be smooth, or could there be some obstacle?
Since the Presidential Palace has announced that the President will appoint a new government on Wednesday afternoon, I see nothing to stop the appointment process. It seems that Mrs. President identified herself with the new nomination from the SNS and accepted Tomáš Taraba as a replacement for Rudolf Huliak.
Results of the Slovak elections 2023
However, Mr. Taraba has also been criticized in recent days by parts of the media for his stances, for example on nature conservation. Criticisms also appeared against the candidate for the Minister of Culture Martina Šimkovičová, the connections of the future Minister of the Interior Jozef Ráž Jr. or the past of the incoming Minister of Defense Robert Kaliňák were pointed out. So was Čaputová more benevolent towards the occupation of ministries?
This was not a question of benevolence. From the point of view of critics of the government, especially the opposition group OĽaNO of former Prime Minister Igor Matovič and part of civil society, this will be presented as consideration towards Fico. Matovič even came up with a conspiracy theory about the agreement between Fic and Čaputová. However, this was a question of respecting the framework of the constitution, perhaps preserving the parliamentary form of government.
The president had reservations about one candidate. I personally think that choosing who should or should not be a member of the government was not correct from the point of view of the system. Ultimately, however, the president’s position was correct with respect to the election results.
After the SNS nominated for the second time a possibly even more controversial figure, even a politician with whom the president herself had a personal problem (future minister Tomáš Taraba previously published a post on social networks with a photo of Zuzana Čaputová’s daughter – editor’s note), she finally decided not to further prolong a potential political, possibly constitutional crisis.
So do you think that Čaputová should have appointed a government with Rudolf Huliak as Minister of the Environment?
I am not a constitutional lawyer and I do not want to analyze the meaning of words from a legal point of view. I look at it from the point of view of the political system. If we have a parliamentary form of government and the government is accountable to the parliament and the president is part of the executive branch, one branch of the executive branch has nothing to influence the composition of another branch of the executive branch.
So my view of the constitution says that choosing who can or cannot be a minister from the position of the president is not right. I’m not saying it’s unconstitutional, but it’s not right in terms of the political system. I am afraid that the rejection of the candidate did not help the credibility of the democratic institutions either, as it divided the society again and created space for various forms of hoaxes and conspiracies to spread.
We witnessed the first clash between Čaputová and Fic in the post-election arrangement. The current president will be in office for almost another eight months. Can we expect any further conflicts during their coexistence in top positions?
With the culmination of the campaign before the presidential elections, certainly yes, especially if the president supports one of the potential candidates, or if some candidates refer to Čaputová’s work as her potential followers. In that case, Robert Fico will certainly use the opportunity to attack her and help a candidate close to him.
Looking at the expressions of Fico and SNS chairman Andrej Danek and other representatives of their parties, one can expect unilateral accusations of the president for anything. Perhaps also for the purpose of covering up some inability to solve the normal problems of Slovakia.
Do you expect Peter Pellegrini, the head of the second-strongest government party Hlas, who will become the speaker of the parliament according to the coalition agreement, to run for the presidency?
That’s the million dollar question. Personally, I think it would not be reasonable, in terms of the ambitions of Peter Pellegrini and his party.
Why wouldn’t that be reasonable?
On the one hand, the polls before the parliamentary elections showed that Pellegrini could stand in the second round against anyone. But that was in a situation when Zuzana Čaputová was the president and the government that was connected to the president ruled. Some voters could thus perceive the potential election of Pellegrini as a balance of power at the time.
In the presidential elections next spring, however, the situation will be completely different. As a candidate, Pellegrini would be part of the government coalition. The second thing is that Pellegrini would be defined by all other counter-candidates, who will thereby define themselves against the government. So I don’t think he would succeed in the end. In addition, any option – winning or losing the election – would weaken his position in the coalition, or his political party Hlas.
Am I understanding it correctly that you are counting on his candidacy?
Given my experience that politicians in Slovakia do not exactly make rational decisions, yes.
What can be expected from the new government in foreign policy? Before the election, Fico strongly called for an end to military aid to Ukraine and spoke conciliatoryly towards Russia. Will Slovakia, under his leadership, second to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán?
It is after the election, which Fico can pragmatically use to change his position on some European policies. When journalists asked him about the upcoming summit this week, he described that the prime ministers are talking to each other there and everyone behaves like friends. So there will be no destroyer of the old policy. In my opinion, it will be similar to his previous rule until 2018 in style: strong words at home, but different attitudes on the ground of the European institutions.
In any case, he will have to translate some of what he said before the election into politics. For example, he will not cancel some favorable contracts for the Slovak defense industry, because it would be poorly explained, but if any new anti-Russian sanctions or aid to Ukraine were planned, at least in the beginning he will block these matters together with Orbán.
And what about domestic politics? During the formation of the coalition, there were mainly concerns about interventions in the departments that will fall to the SNS. For example, is there a threat of foreign artists leaving the national theater or a weakening of nature protection in national parks?
It will depend on what suits Fico. If, for example, he wants to cover in this way other, negative steps that he will have to take in solving economic problems, or in limiting police investigations and weakening the independence of the judiciary. They will certainly want to try to change something in the functioning of RTVS (a public organization covering television and radio stations – editor’s note), they will certainly change the leadership of the police. However, the current police chief has already announced that he will leave on his own anyway.