Croat Ruling Party Backs Ouster Against Fellow Coalition Leader

  • Lawmakers would give opposition majority in no-confidence vote
  • Deputy Prime Minister Karamarko under pressure over refiner

Lawmakers from Croatia’s ruling Bridge Party will vote in a no-confidence ballot against deputy Prime Minister Tomislav Karamarko, the leader of their coalition partners, piling pressure on him to resign or risk toppling the government.

Bridge chairman Bozo Petrov said 12 lawmakers agreed to back the opposition-led vote against Karamarko, the head of the Croatian Democratic Union, over his ties to Hungarian energy company Mol Nyrt. and conflict-of-interest allegations. Petrov said his faction would stay in the government for now, but “hoped” Karamarko would step down. The parliamentary ballot to oust him must take place by June 18.

“There are moments in life when reason and responsibility should prevail, and we can’t continue to support the old model of supporting a lesser evil,” Petrov said in Zagreb Friday. His comments followed a government meeting in which his party’s deputies vowed to support the opposition.

By breaking ranks with its larger coalition partner, Bridge is leaving the Croatian Democratic Union, or HDZ, the option of replacing Karamarko or torpedoing the Balkan state’s five-month-old government and potentially triggering early elections. That result would be a blow to Prime Minister Tihomir Oreskovic, who’s not aligned with either coalition party and has been trying to execute reforms and boost recovery from a six-year recession since he took office in January.

The Bridge deputies who back the ouster bid against Karamarko will hand a majority to opposition parties, led by the Social Democrats, who control 71 of parliament’s 151 seats. The inter-cabinet dispute emerged earlier this month after newspaper Nacional reported a lobbyist for the Hungarian refiner paid Ana Saric for consulting services beginning in 2013 before she married Karamarko. Karamarko acknowledged the contract exists, though he argued it doesn’t represent a conflict of interest.

For a primer on Mol’s Central European operations, click here.

The government is wrestling over the fate of Croatia’s sole refiner, INA Industrija Nafte d.d., which is controlled by Mol. Bridge supports an arbitration case to win back control of the company and says the Croatian Democratic Union wants to drop the arbitration and seek an agreement with Mol.

The government may survive Karamarko’s ouster should his party find a replacement for the deputy premier that is acceptable to Bridge, Mato Palic, a constitutional law professor at the University of Osijek, said in an interview with the Telegram newspaper. Democratic Union Secretary General Milijan Brkic said Thursday the party “fully supports” Karamarko. The party has planned to hold a convention in Zagreb on Saturday.

For a look at market enthusiasm over the current government’s formation, click here.

“It’s increasingly likely the no-confidence vote against Karamarko will pass,” said Zarko Puhovski, a political science professor at the University of Zagreb, in a phone interview Thursday. “He now must decide whether he’ll keep his party hostage or save the government by resigning and allowing the party to replace him in the cabinet.”

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