Slovak coalition backs Fico’s policies as lawmakers return after shooting

By Thomson Reuters May 21, 2024 | 8:39 AM

(Reuters) – Slovakia’s parliament returned to work on Tuesday after adjourning in the wake of an assassination attempt on Prime Minister Robert Fico, with the government coalition signalling its contested policy agenda remained on track.

Fico is recovering and no longer in immediate danger after being hit by four bullets last week, in the first major assassination attempt on a European political leader for more than 20 years.

The incident highlighted the deep polarisation of politics in the central European country of 5.4 million people where Fico has been a dominant force for nearly two decades.

Since winning back the prime minister’s job last September, Fico and his coalition have shifted policy, including ending state military aid to Ukraine, scrapping a special prosecutor’s office fighting corruption, and planning an overhaul of public broadcaster RTVS after it accused it of bias.

The government has faced opposition-led protests in the past six months against reforms of the criminal code and over fears for media freedom if the public broadcaster’s remit is changed.

The proposal on the broadcaster was under debate in parliament when it was adjourned last week, and lawmakers are due to pick it up again in this restart.

“We are united, and sending a clear signal of our determination to continue in the (policy) tempo and direction set by Robert Fico,” Deputy Prime Minister Robert Kalinak said in a news conference of Fico’s ruling SMER party on Tuesday.

Government officials say the shooting suspect, a 71-year-old former security guard, had political motives. There has been no official statement made public from the suspect, or any lawyer representing him.

Lawmakers present at Tuesday’s session, which opened with the Slovak anthem, approved a government-led resolution condemning the attack and appealing to politicians, civic groups and media to stop hateful rhetoric and ease tensions.

Kalinak dismissed criticism that the restart of parliament would increase tensions, saying legislative items should face strong debate but without “hate”.

The biggest opposition party, Progressive Slovakia, called the resolution a step in the right direction, but added Slovakia’s democracy needed an active opposition, free media and a strong civic society, and it vowed to fight the RTVS revamp.

“The terrible act of the assassination attempt is in no way a blank cheque for the coalition to suppress the independence of the media, civil society, opposition or the rights to assembly and freedom of expression,” PS leader Michal Simecka said.

(Reporting by Jason Hovet in Prague; Editing by Alison Williams)