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March 22, 2020

Slovakia president appoints centre-right coalition government


March 22, 2020

BRATISLAVA: Face masks and gloves were mandatory attire as Slovakia’s president swore in a new government in the EU country Saturday, against a backdrop of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Prime Minister Igor Matovic has made combatting coronavirus infections and endemic corruption a pillar of his four-party centre-right coalition government.

His anti-graft OLaNO party ousted the populist-left Smer-Social Democracy from power last month by galvanising voter outrage over the 2018 murder of journalist Jan Kuciak and the high-level graft that his death exposed.

“You are not taking over power,” President Zuzana Caputova told new ministers, adding they were “mainly taking responsibility for this country and its citizens”.

Matovic, a 47-year-old former media and property mogul, vowed his would be “a government that will govern with and for the people”

His coalition commands 95 seats in the 150-seat parliament, a majority allowing it to amend the constitution.Liberals and libertarians have joined OLaNO in the coalition along with the controversial right-wing We Are Family party, led by Boris Kollar, another businessman-turned-politician.

A soft eurosceptic with anti-migrant views, Kollar previously met with European far-right leaders including Matteo Salvini, the leader of Italy’s League party and Marine Le Pen from France’s National Front.

A coronavirus-related EU travel ban prevented Ivan Korcok, the new foreign minister, from attending the ceremony.

It is unclear how long he will remain in the US, where he served as Slovakia’s ambassador to Washington until now.

Slovak MPs were also required to wear face masks and gloves to prevent the spread of novel coronavirus as they met on Friday for the first parliamentary sitting since last month’s election.

A eurozone country of 5.4 million people, Slovakia has 178 confirmed cases of novel coronavirus with no deaths.

The cabinet replaced a centre-left Smer party-led administration that has ruled the country through a period of economic growth since 2012, and for 12 of the last 14 years.

Smer’s popularity has slipped since the 2018 murder of the investigative journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancee led to huge street protests against alleged corruption that are still reverberating in the country.

After the parties signed the coalition deal, Matovi? said: “Bearing in mind our responsibility and the burden we received, that is the coronavirus pandemic, we have signed a deal so that we could make good on our promise to make Slovakia a country that all honest people could be proud of.”

Matovi?, 46, and his Ordinary People party (OLaNo) – known for publicity stunts to shine a light on alleged graft ? won a quarter of the vote in the 29 February election.

OLaNo will lead with three other parties: Sme Rodina (We are Family), a socially conservative and eurosceptic party; SaS (Freedom and Solidarity), an economically liberal party; and Za ?udí (For the People), a mildly conservative party led by the former president Andrej Kiska.

Free-marketeer Richard Sulik, the head of SaS, will be deputy prime minister, and OLANO’s Eduard Heger, a former manager of several private companies tipped to be finance minister, will lead the economic policy.

The government will face a confidence vote within 30 days but the coalition holds 95 out of 150 seats in parliament, securing its place.

Its majority will allow it to make changes to the constitution and Matovic has said this could enable it to apply stronger criteria in appointing judges.

The investigation into Kuciak’s killing unearthed communications between a businessman who is on trial for ordering the hit and politicians and judicial officials. The defendant has denied the charges.