Croatia Taps Drug Executive Oreskovic to Lead New Government

  • Democratic Union, Bridge agreed Oreskovic may lead coalition
  • Oreskovic must be confirmed by parliament in next 60 days

Croatian President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic nominated Tihomir Oreskovic to become the country’s next prime minister as the European Union’s newest member moves closer to resolving an impasse created by inconclusive elections last month.

At a meeting in Zagreb on Wednesday, Oreskovic was able to demonstrate that he has the backing of 78 lawmakers in the 151-member parliament, Kitarovic said at a briefing broadcast on state television. The Croatian Democratic Union, which has spent the past four years in opposition, and the upstart Bridge party earlier put forward the name of Oreskovic, who’s not a member of either party. Oreskovic has 60 days to win confirmation in parliament, which will meet Monday.

With Kitarovic ready to call a snap ballot to break the gridlock, the nomination has a chance to end a six-week standoff. Authorities are seeking to safeguard economic growth, the first since 2008 in the former Yugoslav nation of 4.2 million. Bridge, or Most in Croatian, wants to overhaul the economy by reducing the influence of the state and trimming the size of public administration.

“Oreskovic is a top professional,” Croatian Democratic Union leader Tomislav Karamarko told reporters in Zagreb on Wednesday. “Our priority was that the premier should be an expert, a non-partisan person, as we don’t have time for experiments and bad decisions.”

Drug Executive

Oreskovic, 49, who grew up in Canada and has spent his career in the drug industry, including at Eli Lilly & Co., is a former chief executive officer of Croatia’s Pliva Farmaceutika DD, now owned by Teva Pharmaceuticals Industries Ltd. He has degrees in chemistry and business administration from McMaster University.

His name emerged after Bridge failed to form a coalition with the Social Democrats. After talks fell apart, Bridge, which took third place in Nov. 8 elections, turned to the Croatian Democratic Union, known as HDZ.

The coalition agreement is a victory for Bridge leader Bozo Petrov, a 36-year-old psychiatrist and mayor of the small town of Metkovic. The election result, which put Bridge behind the HDZ and the Social Democrats, allowed the three-year-old party to play a key role in the formation of the new government as the two larger parties failed to win a majority.

‘Catastrophic Decision’

Bridge has 15 seats in the parliament to 59 for HDZ and 56 for the Social Democrats garnered 56. The two big parties have alternated ruling Croatia since its independence from former Yugoslavia in 1991.

“A technocratic premier is a catastrophic decision, as the real moves will be made by top people in both parties,” said Zarko Puhovski, a political science professor at the University of Zagreb. “His first obstacle will be getting confirmed by parliament, because Social Democrats will have their counter-candidate, and the voting is secret.”

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