Bratislava, Slovakia, Mar 12 – A minor member of Slovakia’s three-party coalition called for early elections over tensions sparked by the murder of an investigative journalist, despite the interior minister’s resignation hours earlier on Monday in a bid to save the government from collapsing.
“This situation can only be solved with early elections,” Bela Bugar, the leader of the minor coalition member Most-Hid, told reporters after a day of marathon talks.
“If these negotiations with coalition partners are not successful, Most-Hid will leave the government coalition.”
Prime Minister Robert Fico, who like the interior minister belongs to the Smer-SD party, has so far refused to consider snap elections, while minor coalition partner the right-wing Slovak Nationalist Party (SNS) said it would agree.
Slovak President Andrej Kiska had also called for early elections — or sweeping government changes — earlier this month, which Fico initially blasted as “an attempt to totally destabilise our country” before backing down last week.
Last month’s murder of Jan Kuciak and his fiancee prompted huge protests against Fico’s government, with tens of thousands of Slovaks turning out for rallies in Bratislava on Friday.
Most-Hid had threatened to quit if Interior Minister Robert Kalinak stayed, questioning the impartiality of the investigations under his lead.
“I think to fulfil my mandate I have to do everything to preserve stability in Slovakia,” Kalinak told reporters earlier Monday.
“For this reason I have decided to resign as deputy prime minister and interior minister.”
Kalinak said he would stay on to complete unspecified tasks before formally stepping down, without giving a date.
– Alleged mafia ties –
The bodies of Kuciak and his fiancee Martina Kusnirova, both 27, were found on February 25 at their home near Bratislava. The couple, who were to have married in May, had both been shot dead.
Police have said Kuciak’s death was “most likely” related to his investigation resulting in an article on ties between Slovakia’s top politicians and Italy’s notorious ‘Ndrangheta mafia, which his employer posthumously published.
The murder and the article sparked a wave of anti-government sentiment in the EU and NATO member of 5.4 million people.
On Friday, some 40,000 people gathered in Bratislava to protest against Fico and his government, making it Slovakia’s biggest protest since the 1989 Velvet Revolution that toppled Communism in former Czechoslovakia.
Thousands of others also rallied in other cities across Slovakia, with parallel demonstrations also taking place in Prague and Berlin.
On March 1, Slovak police detained seven Italians named by Kuciak in his story, but released them 48 hours later.
Fico’s alleged link to the mafia was his close aide Maria Troskova, a former model and Miss Universe contestant who used to be close to businessman Antonino Vadala, one of the detained Italians.
Troskova and another Fico aide have both stepped down for the duration of the investigation.