March 26, 2018 / 8:27 PM / 6 months ago

Reshuffled Slovak government wins confidence vote in parliament

(Reuters) - A reshuffled Slovak government led by Peter Pellegrini won a parliamentary confidence vote on Monday, a month after the murder of an investigative journalist sparked mass protests and forced long-serving leader Robert Fico to resign.

Slovakia’s Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini gestures as he arrives at a European Union leaders summit in Brussels, Belgium, March 22, 2018. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir/File Photo

The new government won 81 votes in the 150-member parliament.

Fico, prime minister for 10 of the last 12 years, bowed out this month amid protests and calls for an early election, handing the three-party ruling coalition to Pellegrini, a long-time senior member of the ruling Smer party.

The new cabinet has adopted its predecessor’s agenda, including plans to reach a balanced budget by 2020. It underwent six personnel changes but only added two people who have not previously held any government post.

Pellegrini has pledged to keep Slovakia on a pro-European and pro-NATO path.

Fico had sought to position Slovakia - a country of 5.4 million that is an European Union member since 2004 and part of the euro zone monetary club - as a pro-EU bastion in a eurosceptic region.

The protests in the last month, the biggest since the end of Communist rule in 1989, have been a blow to Fico although he remains Smer party chairman and has vowed to stay in politics.

Kuciak, 27, was killed with his fiancee Martina Kusnirova, 27, last month at their home outside Bratislava. A prosecutor said on Monday the murder was likely to have been a contract killing. No one has been charged in the case.

Their killings and Kuciak’s last report, which investigated suspected mafia links to Italian businessman in the central European country, swelled public anger over alleged corruption.

In his final report, published posthumously, Kuciak said one of the Italians had past business links with two Slovaks who later worked in Fico’s office.

The Italian was briefly detained in the investigation with six others. He was taken into custody on March 13 in an unrelated case of suspected drug trafficking.

Both of Fico’s aides have resigned but deny connections to the murder. Their Italian former business partner has denied having connections with the mafia and the murder.

Pellegrini’s government, which includes the ethnic Hungarian centrist Most-Hid party and centre-right Slovak National Party, has already faced public protests though their numbers have fallen. Hundreds protested outside parliament before the vote.

Protesters regard the cabinet shuffle, in which former health minister Tomas Drucker replaced unpopular interior minister Robert Kalinak, as insufficient to safeguard a fair investigation of Kuciak’s murder. Smer was often a target of the reporter’s journalism.

Reporting by Tatiana Jancarikova; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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