Croatia Lurches Toward Early Elections as Government Wobbles

  • Coalition party files for no-confidence vote against premier
  • Opposition backs motion, calls for early elections in July

Croatia’s government stumbled closer to collapse after the Bridge party said it will support an opposition push for early elections if its ruling partners insist on ousting Prime Minister Tihomir Oreskovic.

Hours after opposition parties filed a motion to dissolve parliament and trigger an early ballot, Bridge leader Bozo Petrov said his party would support it if the bigger coalition member, the Croatian Democratic Union, known as HDZ, followed through on a no-confidence motion against Oreskovic that it submitted on Tuesday. That vote is being pushed by HDZ leader Tomislav Karamarko, who himself is facing a similar ouster vote.

“If HDZ continues to insist on the ouster of Premier Oreskovic, Bridge will support snap elections,” Petrov told journalists in Zagreb.

The competing parliamentary motions point to the probable collapse of the youngest European Union member’s government, with the only question being which lawmakers will address first. It also underscores the trouble that Croatia, which joined the EU in 2013, and the other countries that split in the bloody breakup of Yugoslavia are having in overhauling their economies and building political consensus for measures including the sales of state assets and trimming public spending.

“Considering that the current political groups can’t seem to find a way out of the turmoil, the most efficient and most honest outcome for the country would be snap elections,” Nenad Zakosek, political science professor at the University of Zagreb, said by phone.

Parliamentary Mathematics

While Karamarko has insisted there’s “still room” for his conservative party, known as HDZ, to muster a new majority if it ousts Oreskovic, the faction and its parliamentary voting-bloc partners control only 59 of the assembly’s 151 seats. Bridge, a party comprised mostly by city mayors and independents, and the opposition Social Democrats have rejected joining it in a new administration.

Oreskovic, picked to lead the cabinet as the country’s first-ever non-aligned prime minister, has been bedeviled by bickering between the two ruling parties from the start. The dispute is threatening to scuttle a series of planned measures that include cutting the budget deficit and public debt and selling state assets to provide more room for growth and help shed the nation’s junk credit rating. It’s also imperiling a revival after the economy shrank by 12 percent in a recession that ended in 2014.

‘Failed Experiment’

The premier faces almost certain defeat, however, as Social Democrat leader Zoran Milanovic and the opposition Labor Party are pushing for early elections.

“In the last few weeks, Croatia has been witness to a failed experiment of coalition cooperation,” the Labor Party said in a statement from the capital Zagreb on Wednesday after submitting the motion for a vote to dissolve parliament and move toward an early ballot. “That has taken priority over the well-being of the Republic of Croatia.”

While the dispute prompted the government to withdraw a planned Eurobond offering last week, investors have largely brushed off the political crisis. Bonds have gained since Bridge lawmakers agreed to support the opposition-led no-confidence vote against Karamarko. The yield on the country’s euro-denominated debt maturing in 2025 rose one basis point to 3.717 percent at 4:11 p.m. in Zagreb.

HDZ, which counts parliament’s agenda-setting speaker, Zeljko Reiner, among its members, can push through the vote against Oreskovic on June 15 at the earliest, before the June 18 deadline of the no-confidence motion against Karamarko. A successful vote against the premier would trigger the government’s demise, forcing parties to create a new majority-backed coalition or march toward early elections.

“This was a desperate move by the HDZ,” said Zarko Puhovski, a political science professor at the University of Zagreb. “It is very unlikely that they will be able to form a new coalition in this parliament.”

An early election may not solve the standoff. A November ballot produced a hung parliament and the uneasy alliance between Bridge and HDZ. The latter party is now in a dead heat with the opposition Social Democrats in opinion polls at 29 percent, according to an Ipsos Puls poll published by Nova TV on May 26. Bridge was third with 7.9 percent in the poll of 962 likely voters, with the margin of error estimated at 3.6 percent.

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