Slovak Economy Minister resigns but coalition crisis rumbles on

Slovak Economy Minister resigns but coalition crisis rumbles on
Prime Minister Igor Matovic offered to resign if the economy minister and others step down.
By bne IntelliNews March 23, 2021

Slovak Vice-Premier, Economy Minister and Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) chair Richard Sulik met Prime Minister Igor Matovic´s (OLaNO) demands and announced his resignation on March 22. There's nothing that would prevent the PM from resigning any longer, Sulik said.

Matovic announced on Sunday that he’s willing to step down as two of his coalition partners demand but only if Sulik, Justice Minister Maria Kolikova (For the People) and Parliamentary Vice-chair Juraj Seliga (For the People) step down. He also insisted that one ministry is transferred from SaS to his OLaNO party, and one parliamentary committee chairmanship. 

"If our coalition partners meet the commitments that they’ve declared publicly and on which OLaNO has based its demands, I’m willing to step down from the helm of the government and operate only as its member," Matovic said.

Sulik said Matovic should now follow through on his pledge. "We have thus met … [Matovic´s] personal personnel requirements concerning the government and it can be reconstructed now, as we have been requesting for more than a week," said Sulik, as quoted by the Slovak News Agency.  SaS has insisted on the PM's resignation, otherwise its remaining ministers will follow Sulik, but it has so far refused to lose one cabinet seat or its committee chairmanship.

Longstanding tensions in the four-party centre-right coalition between Sulik and Matovic and over Matovic's style of governing have deepened with the pandemic crisis and came to a head this month with Matovic's decision to secretly procure the Russian Sputnik V vaccine. The decision pushed SaS and For the People first to force the health minister's resignation and then to demand that Matovic himself make way for another OLaNO figure. Matovic has agreed to go but his personnel demands could still prove impossible for his partners to accept.

According to the political analyst Pavol Babos of Comenius University in Bratislava, a resolution of Slovak coalition crisis is still far away. Matovic’s announcement on March 21 hasn’t made the situation any easier. 

"It was clear to me that the statement was no form of agreement between the coalition parties, but rather another submission of demands via the media," he said.

Babos does not expect Matovic to resign until all the coalition members who were named by him resign. "I don’t see it realistically happening by Wednesday – the deadline for meeting SaS’s ultimatum," he said.

Further developments will depend on how Kolikova and Investment Minister Veronika Remisova (both For the People) will react in the end, he added. For the People has said it will announce its decision on March 23.

Another political analyst from Comenius University in Bratislava Aneta Vilagi said that Matovic´s demands are realistic but when it comes to his ultimatums in terms of personnel changes in parliament, that can be perceived as a move motivated by personal conflicts of MP and some coalition MPs.

The PM's demand on SaS to give up one of its ministries in OLaNO’s favour so that ministries will be distributed according to the election results, is seen as a rather harsh message that the good times are over. 

"As the distribution of individual posts among coalition parties following a general election is usually a comprehensive matter and doesn’t entail only gains and concessions within the government, SaS’s rejection of the demand needs to be viewed in this context," she said, quoted by the news agency.

"Even if a cabinet reconstruction takes place in line with OLaNO’s demands, only the cabinet’s further functioning will reveal whether the governing coalition is in gridlock or whether it’s finally found a way out," she added.