Two ruling Slovak parties demand PM Matovic quit as Sputnik deal shakes coalition

PRAGUE, March 15 (Reuters) - Half the parties in the ruling Slovak coalition demanded that Prime Minister Igor Matovic quit on Monday following his order for a shipment of Russian Sputnik vaccines and rows over his management style.

Freedom and Solidarity party chief Richard Sulik said his party would quit the government unless Matovic stood down and nominated a replacement who would form a new government with the same four-party, centre-right coalition.

“We are calling on the prime minister to quit and we are ready to draw conclusions by leaving the government” if Matovic refuses to leave, Sulik told reporters.

Sulik mentioned Matovic’s party colleague, Finance Minister Eduard Heger, as a possible replacement.

Another coalition partner, For the People (Za Ludi), echoed the call for Matovic to quit.

Losing the two coalition partners would cost the government its majority in parliament. But it would not directly trigger an early election that the rebelling parties said they wanted to avoid.

Matovic’s OLANO party sought to defuse the row last week by sacrificing Health Minister Marek Krajci, but the truce did not hold.

The coalition was formed a year ago after an election in which Slovaks, in shock at the murder of an investigative journalist, bet on parties pledging to clean up the central European country’s murky connections between business, politics, police and judiciary.

While a series of investigations and prosecutions has followed, the government has been immersed in management style and personal disputes between Matovic and his partners.

The tensions boiled over when Matovic, despite objections and without informing his partners, ordered a shipment of Sputnik V vaccines, although the vaccine has not been cleared by the EU drug regulator.

Slovakia, one of the European countries worst hit by the coronavirus, received 200,000 Sputnik vaccines out of an agreed 2 million on March 1, but has yet to start inoculations while the batch is reviewed by Slovak authorities.

It was the second EU nation after neighbouring Hungary to buy Sputnik.

Reporting by Jan Lopatka, Graphic by Jason Hovet; Editing by Nick Macfie