Slovak Prime Minister Igor Matovic resigned Tuesday following heavy criticism of his decision to buy Russian vaccines and of his overall handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

President Zuzana Caputova nominated Finance Minister Eduard Heger to replace him at a ceremony involving all three politicians in the capital Bratislava, broadcast live on Slovak television.

"When one year takes ten years of your life ... It was an honour and thank you," Matovic wrote on Facebook ahead of the ceremony.

After the event, he told reporters: "Please forgive me for all the mistakes I have made during this past year."

"Don't be afraid, it'll be fine. And you can trust Edo," he said, using a nickname for Heger.

Heger (left) took over in a ceremony at the presidential palace Tuesday
Heger (left) took over in a ceremony at the presidential palace Tuesday AFP / VLADIMIR SIMICEK

Slovakia is battling one of the highest Covid death rates in the world. It was plunged into political crisis when Matovic staged a press conference ahead of the delivery of Russia's Sputnik V vaccines on March 1.

Matovic, a former businessman in the publishing industry, came to power last year after beating the governing populists on an anti-corruption platform.

He took office on March 21, 2020 -- just as the pandemic struck Europe.

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

And while he has said he would like to stay on in the cabinet as the new finance minister, some coalition partners want him to be out of the government entirely.

'Please forgive me for all the mistakes I have made' said Matovic
'Please forgive me for all the mistakes I have made' said Matovic AFP / VLADIMIR SIMICEK

During the pandemic in Slovakia, a former communist country of 5.4 million that is now part of the eurozone, Matovic's critics have accused him of poor communication and political missteps.

His decision to buy Sputnik V vaccines has proved particularly divisive, with the former foreign minister Ivan Korcok calling the jabs "a hybrid war tool".

Heger, like Matovic a former businessman and member of the OLaNO party, is seen as more of a pragmatist.

Bratislava-based political analyst Pavol Babos said he was seen as "less emotive" than Matovic but still loyal to him.

But his deeply held Christian views could create tensions with liberals in the coalition, say analysts.

The 44-year-old will now have to build consensus within the four-party grouping before seeking the approval of parliament in a confidence vote.

After being nominated to replace him, Heger thanked Matovic, saying he had been "fighting evil and the Mafia for 10 years".

"You are resigning to bring peace and hope," he told him.

Heger is expected to introduce his nominees for the new government to Caputova later Tuesday.

According to local media, most of the ministers serving in the current cabinet are expected to return, including those who resigned in the past few weeks as the political crisis escalated.