Slovak president urges PM to quit as Covid-19 row cripples cabinet

Igor Matovic lambasted over handling of pandemic and Russian vaccine deal

Slovak prime minister Igor Matovic has been urged to resign by the country’s president, Zuzana Caputova.  Photograph: Joe Klamar/AFP via Getty Images

Slovak prime minister Igor Matovic has been urged to resign by the country’s president, Zuzana Caputova. Photograph: Joe Klamar/AFP via Getty Images

 

Slovakia’s president Zuzana Caputova has urged its premier Igor Matovic to resign, after two government ministers quit over his handling of the coronavirus crisis and his purchase of a Russian vaccine that has not received European Union safety clearance.

Economy minister Richard Sulik and justice minister Maria Kolikova stepped down on Tuesday, and education minister Branislav Grohling and foreign minister Ivan Korcok said they would follow suit unless Mr Matovic resigned on Wednesday.

The ministers belong to two of four parties that make up the ruling coalition led by Mr Matovic’s Ordinary People group, and which are demanding a major government shake-up to keep the alliance intact and avert snap elections.

“The executive and legislative powers aren’t fully operational. This is unacceptable during the present crisis,” Ms Caputova said on Tuesday.

“It is essential that the prime minister resign, to enable the conclusion of an agreement between the coalition partners on the reconstruction of the government. The status and position of any one person is not and cannot be more important than the interests of the country and its citizens.”

The populist Mr Matovic, whose year in power has been dominated by the pandemic, had said he would be willing to resign if Mr Sulik, Ms Kolikova and two other prominent politicians from coalition parties also left their posts.

Bubbling anger over Mr Matovic’s abrasive style and alleged mishandling of the coronavirus crisis ignited when he surprised his coalition partners this month by buying two million doses of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, which is still being analysed by the EU’s medicines regulator.

Beleaguered health minister Marek Krajci and labour minister Milan Krajniak resigned in the wake of the row over Sputnik V – which is now undergoing tests in Slovakia – but their departure failed to cool widespread anger towards Mr Matovic.

“I did what I pledged to do. I resigned so that I would not hinder the reconstruction of the government. Now it’s the prime minister’s turn. The four-party coalition can continue to function without the participation of Igor Matovic in government,” said Mr Sulik, who is leader of the Freedom and Solidarity party.

Third wave

Boris Kollar, head of coalition-member the We Are Family party, said snap elections should be called unless the crisis was resolved in the coming days. “I’m convinced that if we fail to find consensus by the end of next week ... we won’t be able to continue like this anymore.”

A third wave of the pandemic is straining hospitals in Slovakia and across central Europe that have been weakened by chronic underfunding and the migration of medics to richer nations.

Hungary, the Czech Republic, Montenegro, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Slovakia and North Macedonia had the most Covid-19 deaths per capita in the world on Tuesday, according to Our World in Data, and Estonia had the most new cases per capita.

Hungary is the only EU state that is using Sputnik V, and Russia has accused EU politicians of being biased against the vaccine.

The Kremlin said Russian president Vladimir Putin (68) would be vaccinated on Tuesday, but that no photographs or information about which vaccine he received would be released.