Croatian Lawmakers Topple Government in No-Confidence Vote

  • Croatian government collapses after prime minister is ousted
  • New coalition must be formed in 30 days or snap ballot called

Croatian lawmakers ousted Prime Minister Tihomir Oreskovic in a no-confidence vote, bringing down his government and deepening the political turmoil that has plagued the European Union’s newest member since inconclusive November elections.

The motion, launched by the ruling Croatian Democratic Union against the Balkan country’s first non-aligned premier, was backed by 125 lawmakers in the 151-seat parliament. Oreskovic’s dismissal came a day after Deputy Prime Minister Tomislav Karamarko, who leads the Democratic Union, resigned after being censured for conflict of interest in dealings with Hungarian refiner Mol Nyrt.

Karamarko has said his party, known as HDZ, will try to form a new coalition led by Finance Minister Zdravko Maric, even though the junior ruling Bridge party and the opposition Social Democrats have rejected joining it in government. If no party musters a majority in 30 days, President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic must dissolve parliament and call snap elections. Kitarovic said coalition talks will begin on Friday, according to spokesman Luka Djuric.

‘I’m convinced it’s impossible to put together a new majority,” said Zarko Puhovski, a political science professor at the University of Zagreb. “Even if somehow someone puts one together, it will be very fragile and last even shorter than this government.”

While Oreskovic and his cabinet will serve as caretakers during that time, his dismissal will delay planned measures to heal the economy after a record six-year recession that ended in 2014 and wiped 12 percent off Adriatic state’s economy. Despite the government’s collapse, the country’s euro-denominated debt maturing in 2025 gained for a second day, pushing the yield down five basis points to 3.82 percent at 5:07 p.m. in Zagreb.

Snap Elections?

While HDZ has vowed to stay in power, the party’s secretary general, Domagoj Milosevic, said Tuesday they had only 68 votes, too little for a majority. Both Bridge and the Social Democrats are backing a bill to dissolve the assembly and trigger an early general ballot.

“Bridge will not cooperate in seeking a new majority,” Bridge lawmaker Ines Strenja Linic told reporters after the no-confidence vote. “The new elections are the way out.”

HDZ is now in a dead heat with the Social Democrats in opinion polls at 29 percent, according to an Ipsos Puls poll published by Nova TV on May 26 before the no-confidence motion against Oreskovic was launched. Bridge was third with 7.9 percent in the poll of 962 likely voters, with the margin of error estimated at 3.6 percent.

Mol Dispute

Oreskovic, who was raised in Canada, was picked in January to lead the technocrat cabinet. Bedeviled by bickering between the two ruling parties from the start, he planned measures that include cutting the budget deficit and public debt and selling state assets to provide more room for growth in the country of 4.1 million people.

HDZ targeted him earlier this month in a counterattack after Oreskovic asked Karamarko to resign ahead of an opposition-led no-confidence vote against the party’s leader over his dealings with Mol. Karamarko was the second HDZ leader to be accused of wrongdoing linked to Mol, which both he and the Hungarian company have denied. In 2014, a court censured HDZ for graft and Prime Minister Ivo Sanader was convicted of bribery and abuse of power in a case that will be retried.

Oreskovic said a dispute over Mol’s management control of INA was behind his ouster.

“The real reason for the ouster bid against me are disagreements over the issue of INA-Mol and the government’s arbitration suit over the issue,” said Oreskovic, a 50-year-old former pharmaceutical executive and the Balkan state’s first non-aligned prime minister since it split from the former Yugoslavia in 1991. “I have tried to protect Croatian national interests.”

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