Slovak finance minister survives vote, more instability ahead

FILE PHOTO: Slovakia's Finance Minister Matovic speaks to media as refugees fleeing from Ukraine arrive in Vysne Nemecke

(Reuters) - Slovak opposition failed to fire powerful Finance Minister Igor Matovic on Tuesday, but the result spells further instability for the firmly pro-Western and pro-Ukraine government.

The row over Matovic, a divisive former prime minister and founder of the main ruling party OLANO, pushed the liberal SaS party to quit the centre-right government last month, which cost the Cabinet its parliamentary majority.

However, even with SaS on board, only 73 lawmakers backed the motion to dismiss Matovic, three votes short of the required absolute majority in the 150-seat parliament.

SaS, which has announced its decision to resign from the government after Matovic leaned on far-right lawmakers to push through a welfare bill, was willing to return if he was fired. With that option gone, it vowed to be a firm opposition.

"This was our last attempt to remove Igor Matovic from the government," SaS chairman Richard Sulik told a televised news conference after the vote.

"On the SaS part, all attempts to return to government are closed, and SaS is turning into a proper, tough opposition party ... We are ready to negotiate an early election," he said.

The parliament may give a vote of no confidence to the Cabinet with a simple majority, but that would not automatically trigger an early vote ahead of regular polls due in early 2024.

One way to have an early election would be to approve shortening the parliament's four-year term, although that requires an even stronger majority - 90 out of the 150 votes.

(Reporting by Robert Muller in Prague; Editing by Jan Lopatka and Matthew Lewis)