After weeks of pressure from his own government coalition partners, Slovakian Prime Minister Igor Matovič has signaled that he would resign, but would only do so if some strict conditions were met.
Although he says he would be willing to vacate the seat of the prime minister, he would, however, desire to stay in the government as a minister. Furthermore, the price for his departure as the head of the Slovak government would be the departure of ministers from cabinet posts who have been his most vocal critics.
These include, first and foremost, Economic Minister Richard Sulík from the liberal, pro-EU party SaS, who has led the campaign against Matovič ever since the Slovakian vaccine scandal. The prime minister has also made a condition of his resignation dependent on the departure of Justice Minister Mária Kolíková (Za ľudí) and Juraj Šeliga (Za ľudí), the vice-chairman of the parliament.
The resignation offer comes exactly one year into the Matovič government’s appointment, however, some of his government coalition partners are outright skeptical about whether the prime minister really means what he says about stepping aside, and are debating whether this is only a political positioning game on his part.
Sulík has told media outlets that the prime minister is motivated by a personal vendetta rather than the desire to smooth out differences in their coalition. On Monday, Sulík finally tendered his resignation, yet he is intent on returning to his ministerial post in case Matovič stays in the government. What the mechanism for this would be is still unknown, as Slovakia has never witnessed as dramatic governmental infighting as this before.
Whatever the outcome of the crisis will be, the real moral of the story is the logic and behavior of the Slovakian left-liberal elite. SaS, the party which leads the ministries of economy and foreign affairs in the current cabinet is known for its unwavering loyalty to Brussels and champions liberal causes in its political agenda, such as fight against xenophobia or gender-rights. In this, they have found themselves at loggerheads with Matovič, who is known for his down-to-earth politics, prioritizing the interests of Slovakia’s citizens ahead of internationalism and global causes.
The breaking point between the coalition partners has come about when the prime minister ordered the Russian vaccine despite an earlier statement from Foreign Secretary Ivan Korčok in which he had rejected the vaccine on the basis that is not approved by the European Medicines Agency. With this decision, the Slovakian liberals have nominally placed their loyalties towards the European Union’s much criticized vaccination procedures over an effort to sure swift vaccination for as many people as possible.
Although at the time Slovakia was experiencing an unprecedented health crisis due to the fact that the second wave of the Covid-19 epidemic was just peaking with hospitals at breaking point, Korčok had still called the Russian vaccine an “instrument of hybrid warfare” and complained that acquiring a non-approved medicine “questions the procedures of the European Union”. However, despite claims that border on conspiracy theory, countries such as Italy have entered a production agreement with Russia regarding the Sputnik V vaccine and Britain’s most prestigious medical journal, The Lancet, has found the Russian vaccine to be “safe and effective“.
Although the conflict inside the government had damaged the liberals to the point that they might lose all key positions in the government, the infighting is also taking a toll on the prime minister’s reputation. According to a recent poll, 80 percent of the population have lost confidence in Matovič as prime minister, and 40 percent would support early elections. The ones to gain from a possible fall of the current government are the two former prime ministers, Peter Pellegrini and Robert Fico. Last year, they have jointly launched a petition demanding early elections, for which they have managed to collect the necessary 300,000 signatures. They plan to submit these to the president in April this year.
The return of Fico to power could spell bad news for Matovič’s anti-corruption and organized crime campaign that had seen arrest of over a dozen high-ranking police officers and top officials. It has uncovered links between organized crime and the political leadership, a connection that Matovič claimed was the responsibility of Fico’s previous government.