Prime Minister Igor Matovič, leader of the populist anti-corruption Ordinary People and Independent Personalities (OL’aNO), has been in hot water ever since he became Prime Minister. While he longed for the office of Prime Minister for over a decade, the COVID-19 pandemic has seemed to have been a thorn in his side. And in the past week, the pandemic troubles have threatened the existence of the government more than ever before.
The Sputnik V Scandal
Since the coalition was formed in March 2020 have been countless disagreements between Matovič and Richard Sulik, leader of the libertarian Freedom and Solidarity (SaS). Even while the coalition was being formed, there was bad blood between the two. This is due to the fact that OL’aNO had stood as part of the SaS list in the 2010 election, but split from SaS a year later and has had better public perceptions ever since.
However, while debates over COVID testing, masks, and the continual drama over plagiarized master’s theses hadn’t left SaS threatening to pull out of the coalition, Matovič’s actions this past week have done so. An order of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine was made by Matovič without any input from coalition members. Moreover, it was done in a way that is seem by some to be just as shady as the government of Robert Fico – something Matovič vowed to never let happen again.
The transaction to obtain the vaccine was with what appeared to be backdoor emissaries, and the optics of Matovič and his Health Minister welcoming the vaccine at Košice’s airport was not the greatest in the eyes of the public. SaS and For the People (Za L’udí), a centrist party founded by former President Andrej Kiska and also part of the governing coalition, are wanting a total cabinet reshuffle over the approval and handling of the Sputnik V vaccine, disregarding national security concerns and the lack of EU approval of the vaccine, and the failure to contain COVID-19 in Slovakia.
Poor COVID Response
Ever since the fall resurge of COVID-19, Slovakia has consistently had some of the worst numbers in terms of cases and deaths per capita not just in Europe, but in the world. Former Prime Minister Peter Pelligrini’s Voice-Social Democracy (Hlas-SD) has called on the President, Zuzana Čaputová, to force the government to resign and name a new prime minister. Čaputová herself recently did an interview where she apologized on behalf of the government for not doing enough. She used language similar to what her predecessor had used in the wake of the murder of journalist Ján Kuciak to criticize the Prime Minister and the government for their handling of the crisis and the Sputnik V deal.
Čaputová’s involvement in the crisis doesn’t end here. Just early Tuesday afternoon, Čaputová met with the Foreign Minister and other representatives from SaS and Za L’udí and held discussions with them. In the press conferences thereafter, the parties made known their intentions: if there is not a serious cabinet reshuffle, the parties will pull out and the government of Igor Matovič will be no more. The parties also made it clear they do not wish for snap elections to be held. Boris Kollar, leader of the right-wing We Are Family (Sme Rodina) and Speaker of the National Council (Národná rada), also part of the coalition, has asked the coalition partners to meet with him in order to mediate an agreement. However, given the right-wing populist tendencies of Kollár, it’s doubtful anything will occur.
In any other country, this would be a coalition crisis for the history books. However in a country with politics like Slovakia’s, this is starting to become normal. Over the past decade, three notable coalition crises have occurred: the Eurozone bailout in 2012 that led to the fall of the centre-right government of Iveta Radičová, the murder of investigative journalist Ján Kuciak that led to Robert Fico resigning as Prime Minister, and the current crisis over the Sputnik V vaccine. Keeping an eye on what the leaders of the coalition parties say in the next couple of days determine whether or not Matovič ends up surviving like Justin Trudeau, or being forced out in true Slovak fashion.