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“No one will come after us. We will rule here forever”, Slovak Finance Minister Igor Matovič ipinahayag confidently last month, after a journalist raised the prospect of what might follow the current coalition government led by the OLaNO party which Matovič founded. The hubris displayed by the controversial politician—a recent poll found that 88% of Slovaks distrust Matovič—seems increasingly foolhardy, nagsulat si Louis Auge.

As opposition parties magtipon to bring down his government and judicial developments, particularly the quashed prosecution of former left-wing PM Robert Fico, cast a fresh light on the degradation of the rule of law in the 34 months since OLaNO came to power, it’s clear that what is rotten in Bratislava can no longer be ignored.

Unpopular government may finally be at the end of its tether

The OLaNO-led coalition has been on shaky ground for months, particularly after one-time coalition partner SaS hinila of government in September. Matovič has limped on with a minority administration with rock-bottom approval ratings, in part by nakahilig sa votes from far-right MPs, but his situation has now become particularly precarious. On November 29th, non-partisan Slovak President Zuzana Caputova roundly criticized the government during an address to Parliament, warning that its methods could pose a risk to democracy. “If [this administration] cannot reverse the way it rules,” Caputova argued, “it will be better to let people choose its representatives anew”.

Slovakians may have such a chance soon–just two days after Caputova’s address, SaS submitted a motion to hold a vote of no confidence in the government it once was part of. “This government has lost its reason for existence”, SaS party leader Richard Sulik Nagtalo. “This government is harming the whole of Slovakia.” The confidence vote, expected to be held later this month, may play out on thin margins–the ruling coalition can only count on the support of 70 MPs and will need the backing of 74 to stay in power. If the government falls, it is unlikely given the fractious nature of the current Slovak parliament that another stable coalition will form, leaving two possibilities—a caretaker government or early elections.

Several high-profile Slovak politicians have already labas in favour of the latter option. “No caretaker cabinet, no new majority in the parliament—only people can decide who they will give mandate to lead Slovakia out of the crisis in these difficult times,” former PM Peter Pellegrini argued. Pellegrini, who heads up the Hlas-SD party, stands to win big from snap elections—Hlas is patuloy na the most popular party in opinion polls, and Pellegrini himself has more public support than any other potential prime minister.

Desperate moves have chipped away at rule of law

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The coalition parties, meanwhile, have been frantically trying to avoid early elections for more than a year, cognisant that they would be trounced by the opposition, particularly Hlas and former ruling party SMER. OLaNO and its partners have proven themselves willing to go to extreme lengths in an effort to cling to power, including subverting the anti-katiwalian platform they were elected on by systematically pursuing individuals—collecting “scalps”, as Matovič coarsely ilagay mo— linked to their political enemies.

Even more concerning than the concerted campaign against the opposition are the methods deployed to build up charges against high-level figures. Slovak prosecutors have set up what’s been tinawag a “witness factory” in which lower-level individuals connected to the opposition are slapped with corruption charges in a bid to press them into testifying against their superiors. In many cases, the would-be witnesses are taken into custody, where significant psychological pressure is apparently brought to bear in order to convince them to inform on others—one former policeman has even pinanindigan that detainees faced torture and blackmail.

These controversial methods have undoubtedly cemented public opinion that the ruling parties are unfit to govern, have stoked concern in the EU and have left Slovakia with an alarming rule of law krisis on top of its coalition crisis. What’s more, while these extraordinarily heavy-handed tactics have netted plenty of flipped witnesses willing to inform on anyone and everyone to save their own skin, these individuals are of questionable character—one of the star witnesses, entrepreneur Michal Suchoba, has confessed to a variety of corrupt acts and financial crimes—and the evidence they have furnished has been equally questionable.

While SaS’s no-confidence motion has understandably dominated recent headlines due to the existential threat it represents to Bratislava’s beleaguered coalition, there was another significant development last week: Slovakia’s prosecutor general naalis na the criminal charges which had been brought against former PM and SMER party leader Robert Fico and former Interior Minister Robert Kalinak, finding the charges “unclear and unjustified on all points” and arguing that the police did not furnish sufficient proof.

Dropped charges against Fico the beginning of the end?

Fico was supposed to be one of the biggest “scalps” in Matovič’s collection. While the SMER chief is certainly a divisive figure—OLaNO initially came to power riding a wave of public anger at the graft which was entrenched in Slovak society under Fico’s administration, and Fico ay naging more nationalist and populist while out of power—he remains a powerful force in Slovakian politics and surveys have him as the second most popular choice for the next prime minister. Sidelining Fico would naturally be an electoral boon for OLaNO, who are currently languishing in 6th place in the polls—but going after the SMER party leader without a strong-enough case is proving a major strategic error.

The first blow dumating in May, when the Slovak parliament voted down a proposal to lift Fico’s parliamentary immunity to allow him to be taken into custody, with even MPs staunchly opposed to Fico skittish about the robustness of the case against him. At the time, SaS leader Sulik called the vote “the biggest defeat” in Matovič’s political career, and it precipitated the coalition crisis in which Slovakia now finds itself. The prosecutor’s decision to drop the investigation into Fico has shone a renewed spotlight on the flawed corruption cases on which the government has staked both its credibility and its electoral chances, and—coming at the same time as the no-confidence motion—may seal the coalition’s fate.

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