Matej Tonin: Impossible Coalitions Still Possible (Interview)

By , 28 Jun 2018, 13:25 PM Politics
The many faces of Matej Tonin The many faces of Matej Tonin Clipped from the Google Image Search results

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STA, 28 June 2018 - The head of New Slovenia (NSi) Matej Tonin, who was appointed National Assembly speaker last week, does not exclude the possibility of staying on despite ostensibly being appointed as a stand-in until a new coalition is formed. But this is the subject of political agreement and relationships in the potential coalition, he told the STA. 

"If it's possible that I became speaker, it's possible that a certain kind of unexpected coalition could be formed which today might seem like a mission impossible," Tonin said in an interview with the STA.

Tonin was put forward as candidate for speaker at last week's maiden session of parliament by the Marjan Šarec List (LMŠ), the Social Democrats (SD), the Modern Centre Party (SMC), Pensioners' Party (DeSUS), the Alenka Bratušek Party (SAB) and the NSi.

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He was backed by 80 MPs in a secret ballot. Only the Left denied him support.

Tonin told the STA he was surprised by the appointment, "not least because it was a set of incredible circumstances."

He said he had been invited to a meeting of the five left-leaning parliamentary parties forming an alliance around Marjan Šarec, the election runner-up, about an hour before the start of the National Assembly's maiden session last Friday.

He was told that the five parties were willing to nominate him speaker under the condition that the candidacy was filed by Šarec.

Tonin would have preferred if someone from his deputy group had filed the candidacy, but the party went along and "did not make a fuss".

His election was well received in the NSi. Nobody dared to imagine the party could achieve something like this, he said. Many in the party see the broad support received as a reward for the past work of the party and its MPs.

Although his election was meant as a temporary solution, Tonin points out that there is no such term as "interim parliamentary speaker" and that he will stay on until he is dismissed or resigns.

If the coalition is formed very quickly, his term could be over in less than a month, but if the situation gets complicated, he could stay on longer.

"Neither me nor the NSi will be held hostage by any post. We will foremost strive to implement as much of our programme as possible. We'll see what the coalition maths will show then."

The NSi is involved in coalition talks both with the election winner, the Democrats (SDS), and the LMŠ.

The NSi was not included in the first round of talks of the five-left leaning parties in which Šarec merely checked their willingness to join a LMŠ-led coalition, Tonin said.

"I replied to him as I did to everyone else and as I was saying before the election: if we find common points in our programme and if some sort of trust is built then [cooperation within a coalition] is possible."

On Tuesday the LMŠ called on the party to present its key programme points, which it did, so this will be discussed on Thursday, Tonin said, noting that the meeting could show whether common ground could be found or whether the differences are irreconcilable.

Tonin would not go into detail, but said their key programme points were the implementation of Constitutional Court decisions, higher general income tax incentives and elimination of waiting periods in health care. He believes the latter will be the toughest part of the negotiations.

So far the talks with the SDS have been more substantial, Tonin said, although noting that they were nowhere near a coalition agreement with the SDS either.

It has been established that the NSi and SDS were the most far apart when it comes to health and the closest in family policy.

Tonin maintains that him being appointed speaker did not indicate a future coalition as customary. "The semblance of such a coalition was extremely wide, 80 MPs contributed votes to my election, and I strongly doubt that this will be the semblance that will lead to a coalition."

Tonin refused to comment on the developments at the SMC, which expelled its deputy president and former parliamentary Speaker Milan Brglez, noting that this would probably diminish the party's negotiating position, having one MP less.

Commenting on the pace of coalition talks, Tonin said that because of the unprecedented fragmentation of parliament the talks were more "careful" and all about "getting the feel" for potential support.

He said that there were clear differences between the established parties and the newcomers.

Tonin finds it important that in the meantime the National Assembly performs its duties, which is why he would like three parliamentary committees to be formed at an emergency session on Monday or Tuesday.

Committees must be formed within 30 days after the maiden session of parliament but membership may still change later.

As speaker Tonin raised some dust with his exclamation "God bless Slovenia" in his inaugural address. He said it was a spontaneous rather than a strategic move.

"It's one of the sentences that is part of The Toast [Slovenian national anthem] and if someone has a problem with these words in a country that is supposed to be democratic and where the Constitution is supposed to guarantee freedom of speech than I don't understand such a person," he said.

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