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March 23, 2018 5:55 pm | FILED UNDER: europe

Will Former Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico’s Gambit Pay Off?

By ČTK

Prague, March 23 (CTK) – Robert Fico has made a gambit move, sacrificing his post of Slovak prime minister in order to regain it in the next elections, commentator Adam Cerny writes in Czech daily Hospodarske noviny (HN) today, referring to the Slovak government reshuffle amid a political crisis.

 

In a chess game, gambit means a move of sacrificing material with the aim to gain an advantageous position. To understand Fico’s tactical withdrawal, however, one does not have to be a chess expert. It is enough to look at a photo from last week, in which Fico was handing in his resignation, smiling and saying to President Andrej Kiska: “Don’t worry, Mr President, I’m not leaving,” while Kiska, a critic of Fico, looks numb and downhearted.

 

Amid the political crisis and mass demonstrations triggered by the late February murder of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancee Martina Kusnirova, Kiska launched an offensive against Fico’s three-party cabinet, but his chance in this respect was limited. He demanded either an early election or a profound reconstruction of the government, but finally, the constitution bound him to accept a solution chosen by Fico, Cerny writes.

 

If Kiska did not want to go counter to the constitution or set a dangerous precedent, abusable by his successors, he was forced to yield twice to Fico. First, he had to accept Fico’s resignation and nod to the next cabinet being formed by the outgoing coalition. Second, he had to accept the new cabinet’s lineup submitted to him by Peter Pellegrini, an outgoing deputy PM and new prime minister, who is deputy chairman of Fico’s Smer-Social Democracy, Cerny writes.

 

People’s spontaneous reactions to the double murder showed their growing frustration and feeling that justice is unachievable in Slovakia. Previously, Fico’s senior ruling Smer-SD turned a blind eye to its warningly declining election results, Cerny writes, adding that the party won 44 percent in the general election in 2012, 28 percent in 2016, and now its voter preferences stand at 20 percent.

 

After the old-new cabinet is installed, it will be interesting to see whether the mass public protests will subside even though their crucial demand that early elections be held has not been met, Cerny writes.

 

Pellegrini’s cabinet is practically sure of gaining the confidence of parliament. Nevertheless, many people will probably continue demonstrating in the streets due to the rising suspicions that mistakes were made within the investigation of Kuciak and Kusnirova’s murder, Cerny writes.

 

The developments on the political scene will be decisive, however. By offering a gambit – though involuntary, as he would have preferred keeping his post – Fico gained time. His weak point, however, is that he has not proved capable of changing the domestic politics’ course significantly or break his dubious ties with the local oligarchy, Cerny writes.

 

True, the cabinet is in control of public broadcasters, also thanks to public television and radio being a single institution with the director elected by parliament. However, recent weeks showed that the public’s dissatisfaction can always find ways to surface, Cerny writes.

 

The exceptional size of the protests is undisputable, but the weakness and fragmentation of the Slovak opposition is undisputable as well. Smer-SD’s popularity has been declining, but no clear alternative has appeared, except for Marian Kotleba’s unacceptable neo-Nazi party, Cerny writes.

 

That is why two variants of further developments can be expected. Either the Pellegrini government, controlled by Fico from behind the scenes, will survive until the 2020 regular elections, which would show whether an equal rival of Fico has emerged in the meantime. Or the circumstances of the investigation of the double murder, together with further scandals related to Fico’s government will keep the crowds in the streets and push through an early general election, Cerny writes.

 

Either of the two scenarios poses the risk that the election result would not enable to form a functioning government in a situation where political parties are opposed to Fico and to the Kotleba group, Cerny concludes, adding that Kotleba’s LSNS party may benefit from people’s frustration.

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