A year after Igor Matovic´s populist OLaNO party won the general election in Slovakia, his faltering government is facing its most serious crisis. Both his centre-right coalition partners (SaS and For the People) and the fellow populist We Are Family party are threatening to leave the government unless he reshuffles the cabinet.
Matovic has been criticised by the opposition and his fractious coalition partners for his erratic style of leadership, which has become particularly evident during the government's poor handling of the country's severe COVID-19 outbreak.
The government's crisis was triggered on March 1 when Health Minister Marek Krajci (also OLaNO) procured two million doses of Russian Sputnik V vaccine against the opposition of the For the People party.
"The leadership of For the People have discussed the future functioning of the government coalition. The situation is serious, and nothing has been ruled out for now. We’ll continue to hold talks within the party as well as with our partners," stated For the People MP Tomas Lehotsky.
The Economy Minister and Vice-premier Richard Sulik (SaS) said the time has come to consider the reconstruction of the government. "We must have a serious talk about the reconstruction of the government because it can’t go on like this anymore," said Sulik.
Both Sulik and the head of For the People Veronika Remisova plan to discuss the matter with Slovak President Zuzana Caputova.
Sulik pointed to the government’s lasting inability to deal with the pandemic. "Another problem is that the premier has basically drawn fire on himself when it comes to everyone, be it the media, the president, coalition partners, various associations and, of course, the broad public - the people. We can’t keep turning a blind eye to this anymore," he said.
The head of the We Are Family party Boris Kollar called for talks with the government partners to discuss the crisis, while calling on them to stop behaving like "little kids in a sandbox", stressing that the coalition crisis won’t have any winners, only losers.
According to Matovic, the coalition partners have decided to misuse the Sputnik V purchase as a heavy weapon that is meant to crush the government.
"Only those who opt for Sputnik will be vaccinated with it, which is why I think it’s extraordinarily strange to misuse the purchase of the vaccine and the fact that I was at Kosice airport when the first batch was delivered and present them as reasons for the government’s demise," he said, quoted by the Slovak News Agency.
Matovic claimed he has been trying to save people's lives by making unpopular decisions. "People from which I expected that they would support me in this have been repeatedly putting obstacles in my way during this period with the aim to score political points," he wrote.
The former PM and head of the extra-parliamentary Voice-SD party Peter Pellegrini said that Matovic´s government should resign and the country should be led by a caretaker government until a snap election.
"The governing coalition doesn’t have time to save lives during the pandemic, but it has enough time for internal disputes. It lacks energy to explain new hygienic measures to the public, but it has enough energy to bother the nation with mutual insults. It lacks the courage to admit fault for [the country’s COVID-related death toll], but it has the courage to make threats regarding the government’s demise," Pellegrini’s statement read.
The extra-parliamentary Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) suggested the government is unfit to manage the country. "KDH is in favour of a quality change in the manner in which the government runs the country as well as the way in which it communicates with the public, meaning that it also supports reconstruction concerning representatives of all coalition parties," stated the party.
Laszlo Solymos, head of the extra-parliamentary and mainly ethnic Hungarian Most-Hid party, noted that the PM´s “perception of the world is narrowed down to such an extent that he views it as a game for political point scoring, and he hasn’t been able to stop playing this game even now, when hundreds of people die every day and hospitals are full of patients".
According to the political scientist Darina Malova, quoted by the Slovak News Agency, Matovic became a crisis instigator, not only within the coalition but also among the public, adding that the planned visit of Remisova and Sulik to Caputova can be seen as an attempt to put pressure on Matovic to leave the OLaNO caucus or to take part in carrying out a voluntary reconstruction of the cabinet.
"I think it’s very unlikely, though, because everything depends on how premier Matovic views this," she stressed.