Slovakia’s ruling party offers Interior Ministry to non-partisan official

Mass protests across Slovakia regarding investigations of the murder of Ján Kuciak compelled former Prime Minister Robert Fico to resign. (Reuters pic)

BRATISLAVA: Slovakia’s ruling party offered the job of Interior Minister to a non-partisan official in an effort to ensure an independent investigation of the murder of a journalist, a crime that brought down Prime Minister Robert Fico.

Fico, head of the ruling Smer party and prime minister for 10 of the last 12 years, resigned last week in the face of the biggest anti-government demonstrations since the fall of Communism in 1989.

The protesters took to the streets to demand guarantees of a fair investigation and new elections after Ján Kuciak and his fiancee were shot dead in their home last month. Kuciak, 27, had been investigating businessmen with political ties suspected of corruption.

The candidate to head the Interior Ministry, which oversees the police, is Jozef Ráž, a political independent who now serves as chief of staff at the Health Ministry.

He would replace Robert Kaliňák, an ally of Fico who has run the Interior Ministry in all three Fico-led governments. Removing him from the ministry has been a key demand of the protesters.

Ráž’s candidacy was proposed by Peter Pellegrini, who Fico has chosen to take over as prime minister and who met President Andrej Kiska on Monday to propose a new cabinet.

Kiska, whose role as president is otherwise largely ceremonial, must decide whether to accept or refuse a proposal for a new government of the Smer-led coalition.

Kiska may choose a different prime minister, but that nominee would have a hard time winning parliament’s approval. A row could eventually lead to a new election.

A spokesman for Kiska said after the meeting that the president, a frequent critic of Fico, would comment on the proposed cabinet on Tuesday.

“I believe I am going to the president with nominations that should not raise any aversion,” Pellegrini told a news conference after a Smer leadership meeting.

“We decided to pick a non-partisan (for the Interior Ministry). That gives us a chance that he will not be just an expert, but will also bring calm in these complicated times and not raise suspicions of pushing someone’s party interests.”

“If we proposed the best candidate that would be a Smer party member, it would raise passions and it would be a handicap even if it was the best candidate we had.”

Ráž studied economics and law. He has led the Defence Ministry’s acquisition and organisation departments and served as a manager at the state-owned postal service prior to joining the Health Ministry in 2016.