BRATISLAVA, Slovakia (AP) — Slovakia’s president has asked Prime Minister Igor Matovic to step down and clear the way for a Cabinet reshuffle to defuse a political crisis triggered by a secret deal to buy Russia’s coronavirus vaccine.
Zuzana Caputova spoke on Tuesday after she accepted the resignation of the fourth minister of Matovic’s four-party coalition to step down amid the crisis.
Caputova said “it’s inevitable for the prime minister to resign and make it possible for the coalition partners to strike a deal to reconstruct the government.”
The crisis erupted when a secret deal came to light three weeks ago involving Slovakia’s agreement to acquire 2 million doses of Russia’s Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine. The populist prime minister orchestrated the deal despite disagreement among his coalition partners.
Matovic has defended the Sputnik V purchase, saying it would speed up the vaccination program in one of the hardest-hit European Union countries.
But two parties in his coalition government, the Freedom and Solidarity and For People, which had clashed repeatedly with Matovic’ Ordinary People party over how to tackle the pandemic demanded his resignation as a condition for the coalition to survive. They threatened that otherwise they would leave the government.
Matovic said he was ready to do that, if his major rival, Freedom and Solidarity leader Richard Sulik, and also Justice Minister Maria Kolíkova from the For People party also resign — which they have done.
Freedom and Solidarity rejected some of Matovic’s other conditions for a deal to preserve the coalition, including a request for Sulik’s party to give up one of the three ministries it holds.
Matovic didn’t immediately react to the president’s request but his party said the talks over the crisis with all coalition partners will continue.
Matovic’s group struck a deal a year ago to govern with the pro-business Freedom and Solidarity party, the conservative For People, and We Are Family, a populist right-wing group that was allied with France’s far-right National Rally party.