Slovakia’s prime minister Igor Matovic said on Sunday that he was prepared to stand down to defuse a coalition crisis that erupted after his decision to purchase Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine.
Matovic announced earlier this month that Slovakia would purchase 2m doses of the Russian vaccine, using an emergency approvals process as the shot has not yet been approved by the European Medicines Agency.
However, other members of his four-party coalition were incensed by the decision, which was taken without their agreement, and figures from two of the other parties subsequently called for Matovic’s resignation.
On Sunday evening — a year to the day after he was appointed prime minister — Matovic said he would be prepared to step down, but set a series of conditions, including that he should remain in the government.
He also demanded that Richard Sulik, the leader of the Freedom and Solidarity party (SaS) and economy minister, leave the cabinet and that SaS give up one of its ministries. Two members of another coalition party, For the People, should also leave their posts, he said.
“Our coalition partners used the delivery of Sputnik to provoke a coalition crisis. At first, their only demand was the resignation of [health minister] Marek Krajci. We have met this demand. Later, however, they came up with an additional demand for my departure,” Matovic wrote on Facebook.
“We are also aware of our own share of responsibility in the current coalition crisis and also the seriousness of the situation . . . Therefore, if our coalition partners fulfil the commitments they have made publicly, and on which our demands are based, I am willing to resign as prime minister.”
Matovic swept to power after his Ordinary People anti-corruption movement won an unexpectedly clear victory in last year’s parliamentary election, tapping into popular anger at the country’s elite triggered by the murder of a young investigative journalist and his fiancée in 2018.
Ordinary People formed a coalition with Sulik’s pro-business SaS, the centre-right For the People, and the populist We are Family party of Boris Kollar.
However, the alliance was beset with personality clashes, and also immediately had to contend with the coronavirus pandemic, which arrived in the 5.5m-strong central European nation just days after the election.
Although Matovic won plaudits when Slovakia came through the first wave of the pandemic relatively unscathed after locking down quickly, the country has been battered by the second and third waves.
In recent weeks the country has had one of the highest death rates per capita in the world from the virus, and the government’s struggles to bring the pandemic under control have left it under mounting pressure. In total, Slovakia has recorded 348,869 cases of coronavirus, and 9,044 deaths.