Croatian Social Democrats, Bridge Party Move Closer to Coalition

  • Bridge leader says final details to be settled by Dec. 22
  • Croatian Democratic Union leader abandons talks early

Croatia’s ruling Social Democrats and the nascent Bridge party moved closer to forming a coalition government that would be led either by a Bridge member or a technocrat premier, ending weeks of uncertainty following inconclusive elections in November.

Outgoing Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic of the Social Democrats and Bozo Petrov, leader of the small Bridge party, cited progress late Saturday in Zagreb, the country’s capital, after the leader of the opposition Croatian Democratic Union, known as the HDZ, abandoned coalition talks earlier in the evening.

“I won’t be the next prime minister,” Milanovic told reporters after the meeting. “I will try to convince the people in ‘Most’ that the prime minister should be one of them, rather than a non-partisan person,” he said.

Saturday’s drama follows weeks of talks between the two major parties and Bridge, known as “Most” in Croatian, which has played a king-maker role after finishing third in the Nov. 8 parliamentary ballot. The standoff threatened to undermine an economic recovery in the Adriatic state of 4.2 million people, which is expected to show its first annual growth this year since 2008.

Standoff Ends

“All the details of the agreement will be hammered out by Tuesday,” Petrov told reporters. “The Croatian Democratic Union is now excluded from the talks, because they haven’t accepted our conditions.”

In a standoff that has lasted more than five weeks, the two major parties had initially rejected a proposal by Bridge, which has 15 seats in the 151-member parliament, to form a broad coalition comprised of the three groups. They both seemed to have come closer to a deal, before the HDZ leader Tomislav Karamarko left the talks on Saturday.

“We couldn’t participate in this horse-trading,” Karamarko told reporters.

The announcement represents a victory for Petrov, a 36-year-old psychiatrist whose only experience in government has been as mayor of the southern Croatian town of Metkovic, population about 17,000, since 2013.

The Social Democrats, which won 56 seats in November’s election, and the HDZ, which won 59, had initially insisted on leading the government. The parties have alternated running the country since it split from the former Yugoslavia in 1991.

’Junior Partner’

“This is probably political suicide for Milanovic, who accepted the role of a junior partner to someone who won a third of the votes the Social Democrats did,” Zarko Puhovski, political science professor at the University of Zagreb, said in a telephone interview. “This coalition would lack stability because Milanovic will have to get it approved by the parties with whom he ran in the election.”

The parties will meet Tuesday with Croatian President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic, who must approve as the premier-designate the person who gathers a majority of parliamentary deputies. He or she will then have 60 days to get approval from parliament.

Under Bridge’s proposal, the coalition’s main tasks will be to overhaul the country’s economy by reducing the influence of the state and trimming the size of Croatia’s public administration.

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