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Slovakia: Uncertainty ahead after government ousted

December 16, 2022

Slovakia's parliament voted to topple the country's self-proclaimed anti-corruption, reformist government yesterday after two-and-a-half years in office. What happens next and how did it come to this?

Slovakia's Prime Minister Eduard Heger leaves the chamber ahead of a confidence vote on his government in the parliament in Bratislava, Slovakia, December 15, 2022
Slovakia's government under PM Eduard Heger has collapsed after losing a parliamentary vote of no confidenceImage: Jaroslav Novák/AP/picture-alliance

Slovakia's government, which was lead by the OLANO party (ORDINARY PEOPLE and Independent Personalities) and Prime Minister Eduard Heger, was brought down yesterday when 78 of the 120 MPs present in parliament backed a motion of no confidence in the government. The result came despite several rounds of protracted negotiations that sought to avert a negative outcome for the government.

Heger's cabinet had been hoping to survive the vote right up until the end. Finance Minister Igor Matovic even offered to resign if the opposition withdrew its no-confidence motion. MPs met in the chamber of the National Council at 5 p.m. (CET) ready to cast their votes, but discussions dragged on for another 90 minutes.

Members of Eduard Heger's government sit in the parliament chamber, Bratislava, before the confidence vote on December 15, 2022
Talks aimed at averting the vote went on until the moment it took place, with no one certain of the outcome Image: Jaroslav Novák/TASR/dpa/picture alliance

The information coming from the various political camps was contradictory: some predicted the fall of the government and others its survival. It seemed like nobody — including the members of the coalition — knew what the outcome would be. When the government finally did learn its fate, it came as a shock to many.

Slovakia's President Zuzana Caputova accepted the government's resignation on Friday afternoon. She also asked the coalition to continue governing the country until a snap election can be called.

The fall of an unexpected winner

The OLANO movement led by Igor Matovic surprised virtually everyone with the backing it received in the February 2020 parliamentary election, garnering over 25% of all votes cast. After almost 12 years of Social Democrat government led by the Smer Party (2006–2010 and 2012–2020), Slovak voters were hungry for change.

Eduard Heger (right), Slovakian prime minister, and Boris Kollar (left), speaker of the National Council of the Slovak Republic, meet President Zuzana Caputova at the Presidential Palace, Bratislava, Slovakia
President Caputova (center) met with PM Heger (r) and Speaker Kollar (l) to accept the government's resignation Friday Image: Jaroslav Novák/AP/TASR Slovakia/dpa/picture alliance

Nobody had really anticipated such high support for the OLANO movement. Pre-election polls indicated that it had just 5–6% support within the electorate.

Matovic's OLANO movement entered the political scene as an anti-corruption party at a time when there were a lot of major corruption cases, mainly linked to the members of Smer. Matovic promised to end Smer's rule and remove the stain of bribery and injustice from national institutions, and people believed him.

The fight against corruption and failed management

During its time in office, the coalition government led by OLANO seemed to be fulfilling many of the movement's promises. Shortly after the election, many allegedly corrupt politicians were investigated by the National Criminal Agency (NAKA) and now face prosecution.

The government of Igor Matovic, and later of his successor, Eduard Heger, also pushed many reforms through parliament, including the reform of the judiciary, health care and hospitals.

However, as many political experts have pointed out, the coalition government's weakness lay in its communication style, both within the coalition and with the public.

Igor Matovic as the stumbling block

Igor Matovic led the government as prime minister from 2020 until 2021. As the leader of the strongest political party, he had the backing of both voters and the members of the coalition.

However, after several public attacks on members of the government — primarily on Richard Sulik, leader of coalition partner Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) — he was forced to resign in April 2021 and was appointed minister of finance.

Opposition Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) party leader Richard Sulik in parliament, Bratislava, December 15, 2022
A feud with former PM Matovic led Richard Sulik to withdraw his party from the coalition and ultimately initiate the vote of no confidenceImage: Jaroslav Novák/AP/picture-alliance

The management of Slovakia's public finances under Finance Minister Matovic created even more tension between Sulik and Matovic. After months of conflict, the rift between their respective parties could not be bridged. Sulik called on Matovic to leave the government, but Matovic refused. As a result, the Freedom and Solidarity party left the coalition after the summer recess, leaving a minority government in charge of the country.

No confidence in the government

It was Richard Sulik who initiated the vote of no confidence in early December, arguing that the coalition was no longer acting effectively as an anti-corruption force. Now that the no-confidence motion has been passed, it is as yet unclear what will happen next.

If there is a snap election, polls currently suggest that the two Social Democrat parties, Smer and Hlas, would come out on top. Members of both parties are being investigated by the National Criminal Agency for corruption, but the leader of Smer, Robert Fico, says the accusations are fabricated and politically motivated.

Another party polling well is the Republika movement, whose members used to be members of the far-right neo-Nazi party People's Party Our Slovakia. However, other parties such as Progressive Slovakia or Freedom and Solidarity could well enter parliament, too.

Edited by: Aingeal Flanagan

A red-haired woman (Sona Otajovicova) stands beside a large shrub and smiles into the camera
Sona Otajovicova Bratislava-based Slovakia correspondent