• Bridge says it is open to ruling with HDZ or Social Democrats
  • Petrov sees neither big party agreeing to Bridge’s platform

Croatia’s third-largest political party will reach out to both of its bigger rivals after Sept. 11 general elections, although it’s more likely the country’s two main political forces will rule together in a grand coalition, its leader said.

Bridge Party head Bozo Petrov said he’ll form a government with either the Croatian Democratic Union, known as HDZ, or the Social Democrats if they agree to his party’s conditions, which include cutting benefits for lawmakers and exerting more control over the central bank. It’s the latest climbdown for a party that played the role of kingmaker after last year’s election, with Petrov saying in August that he’d agree to join the Social Democrats only if its leader were excluded.

“The party that is more willing to implement the changes that this country desperately needs will be able to count on our help to form the government,” Petrov, said in an e-mailed response to questions. “But neither HDZ nor the Social Democrats really want changes and reforms, and they both will probably reject them. A more likely outcome than accepting all of our reasonable requests would be their own coalition.”

Following the acrimonious collapse of a HDZ-Bridge government in June, opinion polls show the vote may produce a hung parliament in the European Union’s youngest member, which is trying to regain lost ground after a six-year recession ended in 2014. While the Social Democrats, led by former Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic, are ahead in opinion polls, no party has enough support to secure a majority in the assembly without teaming up with at least one other partner.

What Coalition?

HDZ’s leader, veteran diplomat Andrej Plenkovic, has said a grand coalition is “not on the agenda” at the moment. Milanovic said in August that he couldn’t answer the question of whether he would reject any possibility of a grand coalition.

Bridge, known as Most in Croatian, stormed onto the political scene last year, upsetting a balance in which the HDZ and the Social Democrats had split the country of 4.2 million people along a conservative-leftist fault line since it violently tore away from Yugoslavia in 1991. Petrov, a 36-year-old psychiatrist and the mayor of a small southern town, found himself kingmaker after an election last November when Bridge took 19 mandates in the 151-seat parliament.

After weeks of wrangling and a failed bid to form a government with the Social Democrats, Bridge and HDZ agreed to a cabinet led by non-aligned Prime Minister Tihomir Oreskovic. That ruling pact, however, imploded six months into its term when then-HDZ leader Tomislav Karamarko was embroiled in a conflict-of-interest scandal tied to national refiner INA Industrija Nafte dd. The fall of the government left more than 60 draft laws aimed at cutting unemployment and streamlining state spending stuck in parliament.

For more on INA and its role in Croatian politics, click here

Opinion polls show Bridge was damaged by the collapse. It’s now projected to win 12 seats, seven less than in last year’s election, according to a survey by Promocija Plus published on Tuesday. The Social Democrats were seen taking 62 seats and HDZ 55. The survey, conducted among 7,000 respondents Aug. 16-31, looked at 140 of parliament’s mandates, excluding the 11 allotted to minorities and diaspora.

Bridge’s platform includes demands to cut benefits enjoyed by lawmakers and state financing for political parties. It has also called for measures to exert more control over the central bank, a proposal the European Central Bank has warned could curb the monetary authority’s independence. Petrov, who is a deputy premier in the caretaker government, is also pushing for lower taxes on incomes and dividends and cutting red tape for businesses.

“Our program is fighting for the public interest, rather than for private interests of big and small groups that have controlled this country for the last twenty years,” Petrov said.

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