Slovak PM steps down over Sputnik V vaccine deal scandal

Igor Matovic resigns as political crisis triggered by controversial purchase of Russian-made jab reaches climax.

Matovic tendered his resignation to Slovak President Zuzana Caputova at the presidential palace in Bratislava [Radovan Stoklasa/Reuters]

Slovakia’s Prime Minister Igor Matovic and his government have resigned to ease a political crisis triggered by a secret deal to buy Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine.

This is the first European government to collapse due to its handling of the pandemic, but the move on Tuesday will keep the current four-party coalition in power and avoid the possibility of an early election. The coalition holds a comfortable parliamentary majority.

President Zuzana Caputova accepted the resignation and asked Eduard Heger from Matovic’s Ordinary People party to form a new government.

Heger served as the finance minister and deputy prime minister in the outgoing government. Matovic, who had announced on Sunday that he would be making the move, is expected to assume the post of finance minister in the new government.

With few changes anticipated, Heger’s cabinet is expected to be the same as Matovic’s.

The political crisis erupted when a secret deal came to light at the beginning of March involving Slovakia’s agreement to acquire two million doses of Sputnik V.

The populist prime minister orchestrated the deal despite disagreement among his coalition partners, with the former Foreign Minister Ivan Korcok calling the jabs “a hybrid war tool”.

Matovic had initially defended the purchase, saying it would speed up the vaccination programme in one of the hardest-hit European Union countries.

Slovakia, home to 5.5 million people, is only now emerging from its worst wave of the COVID-19 pandemic to date. The surge of infections saw hospital admissions rise, with the nationwide COVID-19 death toll climbing beyond 9,600.

Slovakia has received 200,000 doses of the Russian vaccine to date but has yet to start administering shots, pending testing of the batch.

If it begins a roll-out, it would become the second EU country after Hungary to use the Sputnik V shots.

The European Medicines Agency has not yet approved the vaccine.

Source: News Agencies