Former Slovak PM and ex-interior minister scuffle on election campaign trail

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

(Reuters) - Former Slovak prime minister Igor Matovic and ex-interior minister Robert Kalinak scuffled on Wednesday after Matovic crashed an outdoor campaign event of Kalinak's SMER-SSD party.

Matovic is an anti-graft campaigner whose OLANO party won the last election in 2020 but who ultimately was ousted as prime minister due to ruling coalition frictions. He has long accused SMER-SSD and its leaders including Kalinak and three-time premier Robert Fico of being corrupt and sees them as his main adversaries. SMER-SSD leaders deny such accusations.

The incident at the campaign party underlined the volatile atmosphere ahead of the Sept. 30 election, for which Fico's party leads in polls with an agenda to end military aid to neighbouring Ukraine. Matovic's group, led by OLANO, is sitting at around the 7% threshold needed for coalitions to win seats.

On Wednesday, Matovic drove a pick-up truck painted with a slogan "we will not hand you over to the mafia" to a televised SMER-SSD news conference and, through mounted loudspeakers, accused Kalinak of poor immigration policies when he was interior minister in Fico's cabinets.

Kalinak went to the car and knocked on the driver's window, while aides tried to disconnect the speakers at the back of the truck. Matovic then opened the door, and Kalinak leaned in and tried to grab the microphone from him, while Matovic tried to push him away and swore at him, calling him a mafioso.

Matovic kicked at Kalinak in video footage, while another SMER-SSD member punched Matovic before police intervened to separate the two sides.

Police said an investigation was underway. The OLANO and SMER-SSD parties did not immediately reply to requests for comment.

Matovic had to quit as prime minister in 2021 amid a spate of coalition infighting and policy U-turns. OLANO stayed in power before its coalition fell apart last year and a caretaker cabinet was appointed in May 2023.

(Reporting by Jan Lopatka and Jason Hovet in Prague; editing by Mark Heinrich)