Igor Matovic: the untamed leader of Slovakia's opposition

Bratislava (AFP) –


A self-proclaimed "man of the people", the 46-year-old media-savvy Igor Matovic propelled his centre-right anti-graft party to victory in Slovakia's general election, beating the governing populists on a strident anti-graft platform.

While supporters view him as a maverick with a knack for self-promotion, critics accuse Matovic of being an unpredictable, attention-seeking control freak.

After studying financial management, Matovic founded a successful publishing house that now has dozens of regional newspapers in its portfolio.

He also owned some of the most lucrative real estate in his native western Slovak town of Trnava.

When he entered politics a decade ago, Matovic transferred all his businesses and assets to his wife, Pavlina. He was estimated to be worth millions of euros (dollars).

He created his anti-graft political movement Ordinary People and Independent Personalities (OLaNO) in 2010 to tackle corruption entrenched in public life, but after winning seats in parliament, several MPs left the caucus due to infighting.

"He manages OLaNO like a dictator," said Michal Truban, the leader of the liberal PS/Spolu party said in a recent televised debate.

Despite this appraisal, Matovic gave the first place on OLaNO's slate to a little-known teacher, while he took the last spot.

OLaNO has attracted a host of other popular and colourful candidates, including a pro tennis player and a comedian.

- Political antics -

His critics have long accused the former media boss of being addicted to the spotlight, insisting he uses televised parliamentary debates for one-man shows.

Matovic is known for his stunts as an MP: in 2013 he brought a life-sized cardboard cutout of Robert Fico into parliament, accusing the leader of the governing leftist Smer-SD party of being in cahoots with oligarchs.

"He has given away Slovakia to the wealthy," read a caption on the cutout.

Fico was forced to step down in 2018 after the murder of journalist Jan Kuciak, who was gunned down while investigating high-level graft.

Matovic also wore a t-shirt during parliamentary debates claiming "Fico defends thieves".

"He's wasted," read a sign the OLaNO leader once put in front of Andrej Danko, after the speaker of the parliament, who also leads the SNS nationalist party, appeared drunk and slurred his speech during a session of parliament.

Matovic recently went live on Facebook from Cannes as he and fellow OLaNO MPs placed signs reading "Property of the Slovak Republic" on the fence of the villa of a former Smer-SD minister, accusing him of fleecing taxpayers.

Insisting that he is a simple "man of the people", Matovic denies ever having had any formal media training.

"I want to do politics the way I feel it, not the way it should be done," he said in an interview with Slovakia's Dennik N daily, but admitted to concern his antics make "people think I'm a clown".

- 'Unpredictable' -

Analysts and friends see him as a skilled but tricky political partner.

Speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity, a former associate called Matovic "a phenomenon".

"He is an extremely proficient communicator. He is unrestrained and sincere – sometimes too sincere," they said.

"His strong sides include political instinct and a gift for political marketing," analyst Juraj Marusiak said of Matovic, adding that "his unpredictability makes him a problematic partner."

"He is good at communicating complex issues in a very simple way," Bratislava-based analyst Pavol Babos told AFP.

"But it's always difficult to predict if he would keep the promises he makes."

Ahead of the general election, Matovic -- who is married and has two daughters -- launched an online public poll encouraging people to choose the policy manifesto of a future government by ranking issues according to their priorities.