Slovak president appoints new transport minister after coalition shakeup

BRATISLAVA (Reuters) - President Andrej Kiska named Arpad Ersek as Slovakia's new transport minister on Wednesday to shore up the governing coalition after a split in one of the four ruling parties. Prime Minister Robert Fico's leftist Smer party won a second consecutive term in an election in March but lost its parliamentary majority and had to form a coalition with three other parties. The small central European nation currently holds the six-month, rotating presidency of the European Union. The previous transport minister, Roman Brecely, resigned on Tuesday after his centrist party Siet (Net), part of the five-month-old governing coalition, saw five out of its seven members of parliament bolt over internal disagreements. The five dissenters, who remain members of parliament, have asked to join another coalition partner, Most (Bridge), gutting Siet and changing the power balance within the government. Fico's government is still backed by a majority of 81 lawmakers in the 150-member parliament. Apart from Smer and Siet, Fico's coalition is comprised of the centre-right Slovak National Party and the mostly ethnic Hungarian Most party. With 15 lawmakers, Most is now as strong as the Slovak National Party and secured the right to nominate the new transport minister, Ersek, from its own ranks. Smer, Most and SNS will sign a new, modified coalition agreement on Thursday, an SNS spokeswoman said. The two remaining Siet lawmakers said they would continue to support the ruling coalition. "The coalition lost a member but came out more stable," said Marian Lesko, a political analyst from the Trend business weekly. Slovakia has been a strong critic of EU attempts to stem the flow of refugees fleeing conflict from in the Middle East and North Africa, and has sued the EU over a quota system to distribute asylum seekers agreed by a majority vote last year. (Reporting by Tatiana Jancarikova; editing by Mark Heinrich)