Slovak PM prepared to step down to resolve coalition crisis but sets conditions

FILE PHOTO: Slovak Prime Minister Igor Matovic arrives for an EU summit in Brussels
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PRAGUE (Reuters) - Slovak Prime Minister Igor Matovic said on Sunday he was prepared to step down to resolve a crisis in his four-party coalition, if his coalition partners agreed to conditions including a Cabinet seat for himself.

The year-old coalition has been hit by disputes over Matovic's management style, which boiled over earlier this month when he ordered politically sensitive shipments of the Russian Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine without his partners' knowledge.

"If coalition partners meet the commitments that they have publicly declared, and that is what our demands are based on, I am willing to step down as the chairman of the Cabinet and work as one of its members," Matovic said in a statement to the press shown live on social media.

Matovic, a former anti-corruption activist and founder of the OLANO party, demanded that the leader of the Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) party and Economy Minister Richard Sulik leave the Cabinet.

Matovic's proposals also included the departure of a minister from another party and one less Cabinet seat for SaS.

Sulik, who has clashed with Matovic, earlier called his rule "chaotic" and said he was willing to go if Matovic went too.

SaS welcomed Matovic's offer and said it opened the room for negotiations, but the party said in a statement it rejected the demand to give up one Cabinet seat, as well as the proposal that Sulik leaves the government while Matovic stays.

The government parties won a landslide in last year's election as Slovaks, angry at the killing of an investigative journalist, demanded a cleanup of the country’s murky connections among business, politics, police and the judiciary.

A series of investigations and prosecutions has followed the change of government, but the coalition remains plagued by disputes.

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 European Union nation after Hungary to buy Sputnik, which has not been cleared by the EU drug regulator.

(Reporting by Jan Lopatka; Editing by Giles Elgood and Peter Cooney)