Slovak Finance Minister Igor Matovic, whose erratic behaviour has sparked a series of cabinet crises, survived a confidence vote in the parliament by a mere three votes on October 4.
Slovakia now faces the prospect of potential early elections during the ongoing cost of living crisis, as libertarian SaS leader Richard Sulik – who led his party out of the ruling coalition last month and filed the no-confidence motion – said he may now support a snap poll.
SaS has criticised Matovic for what it calls his chaotic management at the financial ministry and his controversial public statements on Facebook. Matovic is chairman of the populist OLaNO party and was prime minister before he was forced to swap posts with his party colleague Eduard Heger last year to calm a previous crisis with Sulik provoked by his push for Sputnik vaccines, which have not been certified by the EU authorities.
The no-confidence vote was backed by 73 deputies, three short of the required 76 in the parliament of 150 deputies. Only 45 deputies backed Matovic, including some deserters from OLaNO, while a further six deputies abstained or did not vote and the rest were not present in the parliament.
In the vote, the SaS voted together with key opposition parties Hlas [Voice] of Peter Pellegrini (a former Smer-SD premier), the populist leftwing Smer-SD of ex-premier Robert Fico, and far-right deputies.
Matovic commented on Facebook that “conspiring with mafia from Smer, Hlaso-Smer and fascist [Milan] Mazurek [of the new Republika party] is a mega-illustrative example that Richard Sulik is capable of conspiring even with the devil to topple the fourth anti-corruption cabinet”.
Seven of the deputies 20 from Sme Rodina, which now forms a minority coalition with OLaNO, also voted to remove the finance minister, while the rest abstained or were not present.
Juraj Seliga of the tiny Za ludi [For the people] party, who also left the parliament during the vote, slammed Matovic for his aggressive comments about Slovak President Zuzana Caputova shortly before the vote. But he posted that he is not capable of “standing in line with Robert Fico, Mazurek etc.” and that “this cabinet is of greater importance to me than the figure of the finance minister”.
Some OLaNO deputies also left the parliament in order not to take part in the voting. They wanted to distance themselves from Matovic’s recent attacks against the media, which were criticised by international media organisations. They also condemned the political in-fighting between Matovic and Sulik in a joint public statement issued on Tuesday.
The joint declaration states that “now is not the right moment for politicians to prioritise personal interests and conflicts” and apologised to the parents and family of the murdered journalist Jan Kuciak as well as to all the journalists affected by the aggressive rhetoric of Matovic.
“Let us not prolong political instability in the parliament by any day longer, because Slovakia is coping with difficult economic consequences of the pandemics as well as the consequences of Putin’s war against Ukraine accompanied by hybrid war against Slovakia and the energy crisis,” they said, warning that Russian military aims “can threaten every citizen of the Slovak republic”.
Heger’s cabinet has vowed to back Ukraine with humanitarian and military aid, and Slovakia has been also helping people fleeing the Russian aggression in Slovakia’s largest neighbouring country.
Sulik said that the vote of confidence was the last attempt of SaS to return to the coalition. SaS had been reiterating that it is ready to continue working as a coalition party if Matovic is not part of the cabinet.
“For the SaS party, efforts to return to the cabinet are now finished”, Sulik told Slovak media after the vote, adding that his party will now be regular “tough opposition party” and is ready to discuss early elections.
Slovakia, with its heavy industry-oriented economy with high energy demands, is being hit hard by the energy crisis. Heger has pointed out that the country’s economy has been damaged by selling the energy it produced earlier this year at prices which are now five times below the high price level at which Slovak businesses are currently being forced to buy energy.
Heger told the Financial Times last week that the economy could be on the brink of collapse within days or weeks and later reiterated that Slovakia may be forced to keep back its energy for domestic consumption – a move he does not want to do, as it would be a major setback to the EU’s solidarity and unity ahead of the winter.
Opposition parties, notably the Smer-SD of Fico, who was forced to step down following the mass protests sparked by the murder of Kuciak and his fiancé, have been exploiting the energy and coalition crises, calling for the immediate resignation of the cabinet.
Smer-SD collected enough petition signatures to trigger a referendum, which the Slovak president confirmed will take place after the Constitutional Court examines the constitutionality of the questions posed in the initial petition.
Smer-SD has maintained open and friendly ties to Russian and Belarussian diplomatic staff, causing a backlash from ruling coalition parties as well as SaS politicians, who have warned against the normalisation of extremism in Slovak politics. The Slovak Ministry of Foreign Affairs recently summoned thbe Russian ambassador over his spreading of fake news about alleged damage to a cemetery in eastern Slovakia where Tsarist-era Russian soldiers are buried.
Polls indicate support for Hlas and Smer-SD is surging as the mood in the country appears to favour a return to strongman rule.