The Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), the senior partner in the country's caretaker government, elected on July 17 member of the European Parliament Andrej Plenkovic as its new leader only two months before the September 11 snap polls.
With the appointment of Plenkovic, the centre-right HDZ is clearly seeking to recover public support recently eroded under its former leader Tomislav Karamarko. Given that the election could result in another HDZ-Most coalition, Plenkovic is a possible candidate for the country's next prime minister.
46-year-old lawyer Plenkovic has emerged as the only candidate for the HDZ leadership following Karamarko’s resignation on June 15, hours after a parliamentary conflict of interest committee said that he had been guilty of a conflict of interest over his wife’s business links to a lobbyist working for the Hungarian energy company MOL.
Plenkovic said after casting his ballot in the HDZ leadership election that he will focus on his party's victory in the general elections and that HDZ will start talks with potential coalition partners. HDZ is open to a new cooperation with its current junior partner Most, despite the recent collapse of the coalition between the two parties, Plenkovic commented. "I think that we have space for a new page of cooperation," he added.
The previous HDZ-Most government collapsed on June 16, when technocratic Prime Minister Tihomir Oreskovic lost a confidence vote.
Plenkovic was elected as one of the first Croatian members of the European Parliament just after the Adriatic country joined the union in 2013 and has kept his post since then. The newly-elected HDZ leader’s first engagement with the EU dates back to 1991 when he worked as a voluntary translator for the observing mission of European Community in Croatia as an undergraduate.
In 1993, just after his graduation, Plenkovic joined the Croatian foreign ministry’s European integration department as the third secretary and has served in many posts at the ministry since then.
Plenkovic, an experienced diplomat, is publicly known as a liberal. Even Social Democratic Party (SDP) leader Zoran Milanovic said on June 24, shortly after Plenkovic emerged as the strongest candidate for new HDZ leadership, “I have known Andrej Plenkovic for years and frankly, from what I know, he belongs more to the liberal wing of the SDP. I do not know what he is doing in HDZ, but that is their business."
Plenkovic’s mission to keep HDZ as the senior partner of the country’s next government will be a hard task given the recent sharp decline in public support to his party in the recent polls. However, it appears that he will contribute in a positive way to HDZ’s public support.
According to a recent poll carried out by Nova TV, Milanovic, who was prime minister before last year’s general elections, would be favoured to take over the premier post by 27.8% of respondents. He is followed by Plenkovic, who enjoys the support of 20.4% of the surveyed Croatians.