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Slovakia’s Prime Minister Igor Matovič (right) and Health Minister Marek Krajčí welcoming the first batch of Sputnik V vaccines at the Košice airport. Slovakia, March 1, 2021.

‘I can’t refuse to save our people’ Slovakia’s prime minister offers to resign after ‘Sputnik V’ provokes coalition crisis

Source: Meduza
Slovakia’s Prime Minister Igor Matovič (right) and Health Minister Marek Krajčí welcoming the first batch of Sputnik V vaccines at the Košice airport. Slovakia, March 1, 2021.
Slovakia’s Prime Minister Igor Matovič (right) and Health Minister Marek Krajčí welcoming the first batch of Sputnik V vaccines at the Košice airport. Slovakia, March 1, 2021.
Ivan Frantisek / TASR / AP / Scanpix / LETA

The prime minister of Slovakia’s decision to purchase two million doses of Russia’s “Sputnik V” coronavirus vaccine has thrown the country’s ruling coalition into crisis. Earlier this month, the Slovak health minister resigned for fear of becoming “a pretext for the government’s downfall.” But this failed to silence the calls for Prime Minister Igor Matovič’s own resignation. Meanwhile, Slovakia is experiencing the highest per capita death rate from COVID-19 in the European Union, and Matovič has refused to deny Slovaks the Sputnik V vaccine just because it’s “made in Russia.” Nevertheless, on Sunday, March 21, Matovič offered to step down — but only on the condition that some of his opponents leave with him.

Prime Minister of Slovakia Igor Matovič announced on Sunday, March 21, that he is willing to step down to resolve the crisis within the governing coalition that began following his decision to purchase Russia’s “Sputnik V” coronavirus vaccine.

In February, Matovič’s government signed a contract for the supply of two million doses of the Russian vaccine, and on March 1, the prime minister personally went to the airport for the arrival of the first 200,000 doses. This move provoked backlash from two of the four parties in the country’s ruling coalition — “For the People” and “Freedom and Solidarity,” writes Politico. The objections stemmed from the fact that the EU’s drug regulator, the European Medicines Agency (EMA), has yet to approve the Russian vaccine. Both parties have threatened to leave the coalition and thereby deprive the Matovič government of its parliamentary majority, unless the prime minister agrees to a Cabinet reshuffle that includes his own resignation. 

Initially, it seemed as though Matovič would concede: he said that Russia had offered to take back the vaccine doses without imposing a penalty for breaking the contract. But just two days later the prime minister changed his mind. “I can’t refuse to save our people with the help of a quality vaccine because it’s made in Russia...I’m not a murderer,” he wrote on Facebook. In March, Slovakia recorded the highest per capita death rate from COVID-19 among all EU countries. “Everyday [in Slovakia] 100 people die,” the president said, describing conditions in the country.

On March 6, Matovič confirmed that he wouldn’t give up the Russian drug. “Sputnik will not fly back to Russia and it will save lives in Slovakia❤️ ,” he wrote on Facebook. The prime minister accused his opponents of seeing the vaccine as nothing other than a “Russian geopolitical weapon” and a manifestation of “hybrid war”— an apparent reference to the words of one of Slovakia’s most outspoken critics of the purchase of the Russian vaccine, Foreign Minister Ivan Korčok from the Freedom and Solidarity Party. Korčok called Sputnik V an “instrument of hybrid warfare [that] casts doubt of [Slovakia’s] work with the European Union.” 

In turn, discontented members of the coalition provoked further confusion when they announced that they had found an acceptable compromise that included the resignation of Health Minister Marek Krajčí, a member of Matovič’s Ordinary People party.

Matovič agreed to this solution and announced the health minister’s resignation, with the caveat that he would step down in a few weeks — after the country completed its roll out of the Sputnik V vaccine. However, on March 12, Krajčí wrote on Facebook that he was stepping down immediately because he didn’t want his actions to become “a pretext for the government’s downfall.” In response, Matovič called his health minister’s resignation “the most absurd in history.”

Krajčí stepping down failed to resolve the political crisis — the two parties demanded the prime minister’s resignation once again. On March 21, Matovič announced that he was prepared to resign. “Our coalition partners used the Sputnik [V] delivery to provoke a coalition crisis. At first their only demand was the resignation of Marek Krajči. We have met this requirement. However, later they made an additional demand for my resignation,” he wrote.

That said, Matovič’s resignation plans also came with a few conditions, which he announced at a press conference later that same day. The prime minister demanded that a number of politicians from other parties within the ruling coalition leave the Cabinet too, including his main opponent: Economy Minister Richard Sulík, who leads the Freedom and Solidarity Party. Matovič is also seeking the resignation of Justice Minister Mária Kolíková (For the People), Parliamentary Health Committee Head Jana Cigániková (Freedom and Solidarity), and Deputy Parliamentary Speaker Juraj Šeliga (For the People). Matovič also demanded that Freedom and Solidarity give up one Cabinet seat.

In response, the Freedom and Solidarity party has said that Matovič’s proposal opened space for negotiations, but rejected the demand to give up one Cabinet seat, Reuters reports. Sulík previously said that he would be willing to step down if Matovič did the same, Reuters notes.

Earlier, For People party leader Veronika Remišová said that she sees two possible ways out of the crisis: snap parliamentary elections or the immediate resignation of both Matovič and Sulík. “They both made a big mistake, whether it be the measures to fight the pandemic or the mutual attacks. But now they’re making the biggest mistake of their lives, destroying their own government, the whole of Slovakia will pay for it,” Remišová said

Story by Pyotr Lokhov

Translation by Eilish Hart 

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