Slovakia's government narrowly lost a confidence motion in parliament on Thursday, making snap elections at least a possibility.
Seventy-eight of parliament's 150 MPs voted in favor of the no-confidence motion brought by the opposition.
The minority government of Prime Minister Eduard Heger was formed of a coalition of three parties.
In a last-ditch effort to survive the vote, Heger's government had offered the resignation of its finance minister, Igor Matovic, as some political opponents had demanded. But it did not sway the outcome.
Heger's government lost its majority, and one of its allies, three months ago, when the Freedom and Solidarity Party withdrew from the coalition.
Without control of parliament, the government had been failing to push its 2023 budget through parliament, with just a few days left in the calendar year.
President Zuzana Caputova must now appoint a new prime minister — in theory she could seek out a different group of ministers from different parties, or even ask Heger to try to form another government. Should she decide neither option is viable, Caputova could recommend new elections, which would then also need approval from parliament.
What led to the no-confidence vote?
Thursday's no-confidence vote is thelatest episode in a rift that started emerging several months ago.
It pits the center-left Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) party, which pulled out of the coalition in the summer, against the anti-establishment right-of-center Ordinary People (OLANO) party, the largest in Slovakia, which campaigned on an anti-corruption platform.
The SaS left the government dissatisfied with the spending plans of the finance minister and OLANO leader, Igor Matovic, which were pushed through with the support of an opposition party in the absence of SaS backing.
The party had given Heger (also from an OLANO) an ultimatum to remove his party's boss Matovic before August 31. When Heger held on to Matovic, the four Freedom and Solidarity ministers resigned, meaning Slovakia's coalition became a minority government.
Freedom and Solidarity head Richard Sulik accused the government of corruption and of failing to support the people in coping with the higher energy costs.
"For half a year we have witnessed constant chaos and an unacceptable style of governance. This government does not deserve our trust," the Reuters news agency quoted Sulik as saying before the Thursday vote.
At the last minute on Thursday, Matovic offered his resignation in exchange for support for the 2023 budget and for SaS dropping its no-confidence motion, but the former coalition partner refused.
What happens next?
Heger will have to hand in his resignation to Zuzana Caputova. The two are due to meet later on Thursday.
Caputova could task the government to continue in a care-taker capacity with limited powers. Opposition parties have meanwhile suggested they would prefer an early election, but that requires a two-thirds parliamentary majority.
If early elections bring the opposition to power, it could lead to a different stance on the Ukraine war. Thus far, the Slovak government has been donating arms to the Ukrainian armed forces, while taking in Ukrainian refugees fleeing the war.
However, some current opposition leaders have expressed their opposition to militarily supporting Ukraine as well as the European Union sanctions against Russia.
rmt/msh (AFP, AP)