Slovakia gets new government, ending Russian vaccine crisis

Slovak President Zuzana Čaputová on Thursday formally appointed a new government, ending a monthlong crisis that began when the country’s now-former prime minister, Igor Matovič, unilaterally bought Russia’s coronavirus vaccine. 

Heading the new government will be Eduard Heger, the country’s finance minister until his promotion on Thursday. Most of the other government ministers will be retained.

Matovič initially tried to hang on to his post but eventually resigned earlier this week, caving to demands from his ruling coalition partners that he step down after buying 2 million Sputnik V vaccine doses without consulting them. 

Two of the partner parties — For the People and Freedom and Solidarity — had vowed to leave the government if Matovič remained prime minister, which would have deprived his coalition of a parliamentary majority and likely led to snap elections.

Now Heger has replaced Matovič as prime minister. The former finance minister was an executive for a Slovak vodka producer and a political novice when elected to parliament in 2016 for Matovič’s Ordinary People party.

And Matovič isn’t going far. As part of the new coalition agreement, the former prime minister will assume Heger’s abandoned finance minister post. While not a total debacle, it is an embarrassing comedown for Matovič, who was able to serve only one year atop the government.

Matovič ascended to the top spot after his party won a stunning victory in last year’s legislative elections, racking up over 25 percent of the vote. But Matovič’s unpredictable behavior and, ultimately, his handling of the pandemic led to a severe popularity dip for both him and his coalition. According to a recent poll by the Median SK agency, 83 percent of Slovaks are dissatisfied with the coalition’s performance, with Matovič’s Ordinary People scoring the lowest of the four parties. 

While Slovakia’s coronavirus infection numbers have been falling recently, the country still has one of the highest per-capita COVID death rates in the world over the course of the pandemic. 

The new government greatly resembles the one it is replacing. Only one Cabinet newcomer has been named, Health Minister Vladimír Lengvarský.

In addition, a new labor minister has not yet been appointed, after Čaputová rejected the coalition’s nominee. 

In appointing the new government, Čaputová urged the new ministers to end the internal quarrels that beset its predecessor — even though many of the players remain the same.

“It is very important that the images of disagreements from the past are gradually obscured by a new image of cooperation, respect and peace,” she said.

This article is part of POLITICO’s premium policy service: Pro Health Care. From drug pricing, EMA, vaccines, pharma and more, our specialized journalists keep you on top of the topics driving the health care policy agenda. Email [email protected] for a complimentary trial. 

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