Minister Kustec survives no-confidence vote in parliament

Ljubljana – Simona Kustec is staying on as education, science and sport minister as the National Assembly was eight votes short of voting her out of office. 38 MPs voted for her dismissal, while 41 opposed it after a 16-hour debate, which started on Monday and ended just after midnight.

Four centre-left opposition parties mounted the no-confidence vote over what they claim are her unprofessional and harmful policies during remote schooling, arguing she should have acted more resolutely to return children to school earlier than after around four months.

The Marjan Šarec List (LMŠ), the Social Democrats (SD), the Left and the Alenka Bratušek Party (SAB) also claimed that instead of taking action, Kustec had let Prime Minister Janez Janša take political decisions, which resulted in Slovenia having the longest school closure.

The Left’s leader Luka Mesec said: “If you resigned today, there would be no harm even if your post remained vacant until the end of the term, because there is absolutely nothing good from you.”

Kustec and the coalition dismissed the criticism as politicking, with the coalition assessing her work as good although not without mistakes, arguing this was understandable given the situation in which she had to take education policy decisions.

The minister argued the decisions had been “optimal in the given moment” and always prioritised “the right to the protection of health, followed by the most optimal way of acquiring knowledge in the given circumstances”.

MP Monika Gregorčič from the Modern Centre Party (SMC) defended her party colleague by saying Education Ministry data showed schools in Ireland, Latvia, Romania, Canada, Italy, Great Britain, the US and Brazil had been closed longer than in Slovenia. So she hopes this will put an end to manipulation with “alternative facts”.

Part of the debate last evening revolved around the government’s failure to approve public university enrolment for 2021/2022 before the 1 February deadline, with the proponents of Kustec’s dismissal criticising her for not speaking out when Janša had delayed the approval.

Anja Bah Žibert of the senior coalition Democrats (SDS) meanwhile said the approval not coming at the usual time proved good since the country’s two faculties of medicine will now be able to enrol 50 more students, which she deems important at a time when the country has a shortage of doctors.

While Matej T. Vatovec of the Left doubted the 50 more students would actually be enrolled, citing a lack of funds and teaching staff, Kustec said the money would be provided by her ministry as decided by the government.

Kustec believes the debate on her dismissal has brought two key messages: general agreement that children belong to kindergartens and schools and the realisation of all of how important education is for Slovenia. She also pledged to continue to work towards the autonomy of all stakeholders in education.

Following the vote, she said she was happy to have received support from MPs. She pledged to carry on with the planned work, foremost the search for solutions to have fair and just education, science and sport and to weather the Covid-19 epidemic with as much stability as possible.

Voting for the dismissal were MPs of the four centre-left opposition parties which had put it forward, with the coalition MPS from the SDS, SMC and NSi voting against alongside opposition DeSUS MP Robert Polnar and both minority MPs. Opposition SNS MPs were not present at the vote.

Commenting after the vote, Vatovec said the debate fully exposed the emptiness of Kustec’s ministerial efforts. He is not disappointed with the outcome, arguing it was in a way known how the coalition would vote. “Obviously it still has enough votes.”

The opposition has filed for two more no-confidence votes after its bid to topple the entire government in mid-February failed; the one against the labour minister is expected to be scheduled for later this week, and the other is against the culture minister.