PM Šarec stepping down, calling for snap election


"With 13 MPs and this coalition I cannot fulfil people's expectations at the moment. But I can fulfil them after elections," Šarec told reporters on Monday, shortly after it transpired that Finance Minister Andrej Bertoncelj was stepping down, presumably over differences regarding health insurance.

"People on the ground should say whether they trust me or not," Šarec said, adding that he could not know whether the polls showing 50% support for the government were right and that a snap election would show whether the approval ratings were realistic or not.

He said that even the previous government, which had 36 and later 35 MPs in the 90-strong National Assembly, was not capable of implementing any substantial reform.

"If we head for elections, if there's that will, we have spoken with Zdravko Počivalšek about that, to link up to go together so you didn't have to guess what's happening behind the scenes," Šarec said.

Apart from Počivalšek's Modern Centre Party SMC, Šarec was also offering cooperation to other local initiatives, lists and initiatives and everyone interested in contesting the election.

However, in his first reaction Počivalšek said that Šarec's resignation did not mean yet there was a need for a fresh election.

Šarec said he was aware that after his resignation "parliamentary kitchen may be set into motion to start forming a new government".

However, he believes the fairest thing to do for citizens as well as for oneself would be "heading for an early election and let people tell whether they trust me".

Looking back on a year and a half in office, he said that on 13 September 2018 when his government took over there were a number of problems awaiting them, including talks with public sector trade unions and budgets for 2020 and 2021.

"In the meantime, we implemented tax optimisation and reduced the tax burden on the holiday allowance, which has had a favourable effect on domestic consumption and people certainly had more in their purses."

He also noted the increase in social transfers, improvements to the situation in the police force, reduction of state debt, and the budgets for 2020 and 2021, the first ones with a surplus.

"Considering the past government, this is a good achievement," he said, adding that the government also saw to the fiscal stability, but said that Slovenia had one of the most rigid fiscal rules in the EU, which needed to be softened.

"The government has sailed safely through many dire straits and I must say successfully," Šarec summed up his record in office, adding that the cabinet adopted measures allowing the country to run on, but that citizens reported many problems that needed to be tackled.

He believes electoral law could have been reformed, "if there were less talks and more will". He also noted the challenge of long-term care and demographic fund and new housing legislation.

He also noted digitalisation and climate change as topical issues that needed tackling.

Referring to infrastructure projects, he said that he had met representatives of the European Investment Bank in Davos last week who he said were interested in cooperation because "they know Slovenia is a land of opportunity".

Šarec made his announcement after the Finance Ministry confirmed that Andrej Bertoncelj was stepping down. In his resignation statement, he said he was leaving for "technical reasons" but would not specify.

"I have always worked professionally and transparently and aspired for measures to increase the prosperity of all generations of our people and financial stability in the mid-term," Bertoncelj's statement reads.

His resignation is apparently linked to a bill scrapping top-up health insurance, as Bertoncelj has repeatedly voiced the ministry's opposition to the idea in the bill that the budget should cover potential losses of the public health fund without any limits to the sum of funds and the period of time.

Backed by his state secretaries, he issued a statement on Thursday saying the ministry could only support a clearly defined proposal "with up to 10 million euro a year from the state budget".

Speaking to reporters later, Šarec said that the differences between Bertoncelj and Health Minister Aleš Šabeder did not affect his decision to resign, but rather it was the product of his realising that a snap election was the only solution.

He realised the coalition in the current form could not implement serious projects ahead. "What got me thinking was the non-principled pact between the Left and the SDS in the voting on the budget, the national security strategy, and the appointment of minister [Angelika Mlinar]."

"This made me doubt about the possibility of our cooperation in the future. We cannot be dependant on when someone will abstain or on when someone will be present at a session."

Asked on what terms he would be willing to discuss cooperation with Democrats' (SDS) leader Janez Janša, Šarec said the list would be long but not in this term.

He thinks it is "absolutely too early" to say whether he would be willing to form a government with Janša's SDS after the election.

Specifying on his offer to SMC leader Počivalšek, he said that he had proposed they sign an agreement, but not for the two parties to merge, at least not for the time being.

Commenting on Počivalšek's saying that a snap election was not the best option, Šarec said everyone is the architect of their own fortunes.

"We won't participate in the formation of a next coalition in this term. We'll merely watch," he said, adding it was a realistic option that a new government would be formed this term.