Slovak PM resigns amid government feud over Russian vaccine purchase
EU’s Covid jabs crisis claims first major political scalp
Slovak Prime Minister Igor Matovic has stepped down as leader of the country’s ruling coalition following a month of political turmoil triggered by his decision to buy Russian-made Covid vaccines.
Amid an escalating feud within his government over the purchase, which was made without his coalition partners’ knowledge, Matovic has announced that he will swap roles with his finance minister, Eduard Heger.
Speaking in the capital Bratislava on Palm Sunday, Matovic described his resignation as PM “in religious terms”, Politico reports. “On the eve of holy week, which we celebrate as a symbol of suffering, sacrifice and forgiveness, I decided to make a gesture of forgiveness towards the people who politically demanded my resignation as prime minister,” said the former business, leader of The Ordinary People and Independent Personalities party (OLaNO).
An internal war has been raging in the four-party governing coalition since it emerged earlier this month that Matovic had purchased two million doses of the Sputnik V vaccine, which has not yet been given regulatory approval by the European Medicines Agency.
Two of the ruling parties - For the People and Freedom and Solidarity - said they would “leave the government unless there was a cabinet reshuffle and Matovic stepped down”, the news site adds.
Six ministers, including the health minister, have since quit his 16-member cabinet.
Matovic “defended the purchase” by arguing that it would speed up Slovakia’s Covid vaccination programme, which has been hobbled by major setbacks in the EU’s joint procurement scheme, says Deutsche Welle.
But that reasoning failed to prevent him from becoming the first major political scalp claimed by the EU vaccine shortages crisis. Matovic’s critics had piled on the pressure by also accusing him of “poor communication and political missteps”, the German broadcaster adds.
Slovakia’s health system is struggling to cope as the country is hit by a third wave of coronavirus, with 9,496 deaths and 357,910 Covid cases among the 5.4 million-strong population to date, according to latest figures from John Hopkins University.
It is the second EU member state to agree to the purchase of the Sputnik vaccine, after Hungary became one of the first nations to break from the bloc’s joint scheme by agreeing a deal in late February to buy doses of the Russian jab.