March 8, 2016 / 9:45 AM / in 2 years

Slovak opposition leader says ready to start coalition talks

BRATISLAVA (Reuters) - Slovakia’s largest opposition party said on Tuesday it is ready to start talks with five other parties on forming a center-right government if current Prime Minister Robert Fico cannot put together his own coalition.

Richard Sulik, a leader of SaS party, smiles during a news conference after the results of the country's parliamentary election in Bratislava, Slovakia, March 5, 2016. REUTERS/David W Cerny

Richard Sulik, head of the anti-immigration Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) party, told reporters he believed he could find 87 seats in the 150-seat parliament.

“We are ready to seek what we have in common and we’re ready for compromise,” said Sulik, an economist who authored a liberal tax reform in 2004 that was widely credited with attracting foreign investors to Slovakia and spurring growth.

Sulik wants to reinstate the flat tax, after Fico’s governments partially dismantled the system, and to legalize civil unions for same-sex couples. He also proposes to legalize euthanasia and the use of marijuana.

Fico has the first chance to form a new cabinet after his leftist Smer party won Saturday’s national election but lost its majority in parliament. He will receive the mandate from President Andrej Kiska on Wednesday.

With six out of seven other parliamentary groups taking an initial position they would not join a Smer-led cabinet, Sulik may be able to form only a very wide and possibly unstable center-right coalition.

Sulik’s party, a member of the same right-wing European Parliament faction as Germany’s right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD), brought down the previous center-right cabinet in 2011 by refusing to approve a bailout for Greece.

Like most Slovak political parties, SaS has said it will refuse to accept migrants under a system of quotas approved by the European Union last year.

Forming a center-right cabinet would not be easy either.

Sulik would have to reconcile Most-Hid (Bridge), which seeks a more prominent role for Slovakia’s Hungarian minority, and the Slovak National Party (SNS), which has campaigned against giving them more rights. Its founder threatened at a 1999 rally to wipe out Budapest with tanks.

The SNS has significantly toned down its image under its current leader Andrej Danko and Most-Hid said on Monday it could take part in talks involving the party.

However, Danko said on Monday he would not participate in informal talks with Sulik or other center-right leaders for the time being and would talk to Fico first if he accepts a formal mandate that the president is expected to offer on Wednesday.

Danko also told reporters he could talk to any other leader who is offered the mandate, a sign that they might eventually be able to break the political deadlock.

Reporting by Tatiana Jancarikova; Writing by Jan Lopatka; Editing by Catherine Evans/Ruth Pitchford

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