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Slovakia’s prime minister steps down amid Sputnik V vaccine scandal

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By Matthew Holroyd
Prime Minister Igor Matovic has been embroiled in a political scandal over a Sputnik V vaccine deal
Prime Minister Igor Matovic has been embroiled in a political scandal over a Sputnik V vaccine deal   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Francisco Seco, Pool

Slovakia's Prime Minister Igor Matović has formally resigned from his post to resolve the country's political crisis.

The Slovakian government confirmed that it had submitted its resignation to President Zuzana Čaputová after a meeting on Tuesday.

The country's former deputy prime minister and minister of finance, Eduard Heger, has been tasked with forming a new government to avoid an early election.

The new appointment has received approval from Slovakia's coalition partners, the government added.

"President Čaputová will accept the resignation of Prime Minister Igor Matović," a statement also read on Monday.

It is the first European government to collapse due to a decision regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Sunday, Matovič announced that he would step down amid a political scandal triggered by a secret deal to buy Russia's Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine.

The crisis erupted when a secret deal struck by Slovakia to acquire 2 million doses of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine was revealed.

At least six cabinet members had already resigned from their posts.

Slovakia is an EU member, and the bloc has not yet authorised the Russian vaccine for use.

The deal to purchase Sputnik V vaccines was conducted despite disagreement by Matovic's coalition allies, the Freedom and Solidarity party and For People party.

Matovic had proposed swapping posts with the finance minister, but the government said on Tuesday that he had "backed down from his demands to his partners".

Matovic has always defended the Sputnik V purchase, saying it would speed up the vaccination programme in one of the hardest-hit European Union countries. But critics said the move cast doubts on Slovakia's pro-Western orientation.

In a Facebook post on Tuesday, the former Prime Minister said it was "an honour" to serve in office.

The leader of the Ordinary People (OĽaNO) party was elected as prime minister in March 2020 after forming a majority coalition government with three other centrist and right-wing parties.

With OĽaNO, Matovič had drawn praise and support for campaigning against corruption in Slovakia.

But opposition parties have accused Matovic of mishandling the coronavirus pandemic, aside from the secret Sputnik V deal.

Matovic had agreed to resign if his rivals - Freedom and Solidarity leader Richard Sulik and Justice Minister Maria Kolíkova from the For People party - also resigned, which they both did.

The country currently has the second-highest COVID-19 death rate in the EU, after initially surviving the first wave of the pandemic without severe case numbers.

Slovakia was also the second EU member, after Hungary, to purchase vaccine doses from Russia.