Slovakia’s minority government loses vote of no confidence

Slovakia’s minority government lost a parliamentary vote of no confidence on Thursday, raising the prospect of a snap election amid rising inflation and an economic slowdown.

The vote was held three months after internal feuding among ruling politicians prompted the SaS party, which was the junior partner in the coalition, to abandon the government of prime minister Eduard Heger.

The no-confidence motion was approved on Thursday by 78 of the 150 Slovak legislators, following unsuccessful last-ditch negotiations led by Heger to salvage his administration.

However, the decision as to whether Heger can continue as a caretaker prime minister now rests with President Zuzana Čaputová, who could instead appoint another leader who would then probably also struggle to garner enough parliamentary support to avoid an early election. Slovakia had been due to hold its next parliamentary election in early 2024.

While it is unclear exactly what will happen next, one certainty is that the country is “in big political turmoil and exactly in the scenario that the government wanted to avoid,” said Slovak analyst Milan Nič, senior fellow at the German Council on Foreign Relations. “I think it is now very, very likely that Slovakia will hold early elections, but the parties are also very split over when those could take place.”

Even so, the government is still hoping that Slovak legislators will vote this month on a 2023 budget that Heger has presented as essential to maintain economic stability over the winter amid the prolonged conflict in neighbouring Ukraine.

In September, Heger told the Financial Times he could be forced to nationalise energy supplies if Slovakia did not access more EU emergency funding and warned higher energy prices could “kill our economy”. 

Slovakia’s political limbo is largely the result of infighting among leaders who won office in 2020 on a promise to deal with cronyism and corruption. It was this domestic crisis that forced Heger to stay in Bratislava to fight for his political survival rather than attend Thursday’s meeting of EU leaders in Brussels.

Slovakia is among those countries whose economy has faltered since Russia’s invasion. Energy prices have soared and have been particularly damaging because the country was so reliant on Russian gas.

Higher energy costs have also hit energy-intensive Slovak industry, led by car production. The annual inflation rate rose in November to a 22-year-high of 15.4 per cent, from 14.9 per cent the previous month.

Slovakia has been in crisis since early summer when SaS demanded the resignation of finance minister Igor Matovič, over what legislation the government should adopt to help households cope with surging inflation.

Matovič, leader of the Olano centrist party, was forced to abandon the premiership last year after failing to disclose the purchase of Russian Covid vaccines. It only added to criticism he was already facing for his response to the pandemic.

However, Matovič remained in government by swapping portfolios with Heger, who had been finance minister. Earlier on Thursday, Heger finally proposed that Matovič quit his government, but that eleventh-hour offer was not enough to avoid the no confidence vote.

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