Ljubljana – Pensioners’ Party (DeSUS) leader Karl Erjavec has withdrawn his bid to become PM-designate until all MPs are able to vote in person, after an opposition MP was confirmed to have the coronavirus and several others still waited for the results of their tests.
Erjavec said he planned to resubmit the motion of no confidence in the Janez Janša government as soon as all MPs who have signed the motion can vote. “A vote of no confidence is a powerful instrument with which 46 MPs seek to form a new government … It is right that all MPs may be involved in such an important issue,” he said.
The motion was filed by 42 MP from the opposition LMŠ, SD, Left, SAB and DeSUS last Friday. To succeed, the motion would have to be endorsed by 46 MPs, which seemed unlikely to happen.
The move came after it was confirmed that Matjaž Han, the deputy group leader of the SD, has coronavirus. Two MPs who still waited for their test results in the morning tested negative.
The ruling coalition criticised the move as an excuse to avoid a failure to vote out the government, after Erjavec already said on Monday he was considering withdrawing his bid because some MPs had been infected with coronavirus or were self-isolating.
Prime Minister Janez Janša said on Twitter the parties behind the motion were only seeking to cause trouble and spread coronavirus following the principle “the more infected and dead the better for KUL”. “If bringing down the government succeeded, then [there was to be] chaos and election.”
At a press conference later in the day, Janša said that this was “the continuation of a tragicomedy,” adding that it was “pathetic” that during an epidemic, the opposition was using a legal instrument designed to shorten the period of political instability.
“Those who use is must have the majority in parliament … If you don’t and you’re playing with this, and doing that during an epidemic, you certainly don’t love the country in which you are doing that,” he said.
Zdravko Počivalšek, the economy minister and leader of the Modern Centre Party (SMC), questioned the pick of Erjavec for the post of PM considering that he had not even been elected to parliament. “A serious opposition would put forward the leader of its biggest party for PM-designate.”
“Karl Erjavec and his supporters have had to realise at last the epidemic is not the right time to propose motions of no confidence,” New Slovenia (NSi) said in a written response, calling for constructive conduct to defeat Covid-19.
Under the parliamentary rules of procedure, MPs may cast public votes remotely but must be present in parliament in person for the secret ballot. The deadline to hold the extraordinary session on the no-confidence motion is this Friday.
The withdrawal means the current procedure for the vote of no-confidence is over. If the vote is to be held in the future, a new no-confidence motion will have to be filed.
The move has triggered a debate about the need to allow absent MPs to cast secret ballots in similar situations. The current thinking appears to be that this cannot be done quickly.
Speaker Igor Zorčič pointed out that any such change would entail amendments to the parliamentary rules of procedure, which require a two-thirds majority to pass. He does not think solutions can be offered overnight, since there are legal, security, ethical and health issues involved.
Erjavec criticised the National Assembly for not taking advantage of digitalisation, noting that it was time to update the rules of procedure so that MPs absent due to illness, maternity leave or trip abroad could cast secret ballots.
Yet he acknowledged that such a change cannot be implemented immediately, which is why the motion will be resubmitted as soon as all MPs who signed the motion can debate and vote in person. He expects that to be possible within the next 14 days.
The leaders of the parties that backed Erjavec focused on the need to change the secret-ballot rules. Both SD leader Tanja Fajon and LMŠ leader Marjan Šarec said the move triggered a much needed debate on that.
Left leader Luka Mesec meanwhile said his party did not agree with the withdrawal of the motion and stressed that the vote must be held as soon as possible. “If we wait until all MPs are healthy, we might have to wait until the summer. We don’t have the time.”