The Croatian parliament voted on June 20 for the main opposition Social Democratic Party’s (SDP) motion to hold early elections, which are now expected to be held in September.
The vote shows the ruling Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) has given up hope of replacing technocratic Prime Minister Tihomir Oreskovic and remoulding the coalition government. The HDZ previously claimed it had a new coalition in place, and wanted Finance Minister Zdravko Maric to be the new prime minister.
Early elections are likely to boost the opposition Social Democratic Party, but look unlikely to bring about a radically different result from last November’s election.
They will also cause delays in addressing Croatia’s deep-seated economic challenges. Oreskovic claimed on June 3 that early elections would cost Croatia between €1bn and €2bn, and would hurt on-going reforms.
The parliament will be dissolved by July 15. Early elections should be held after 30 days and before 60 days of the dissolution of the parliament, according to Croatian legislation. President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic will decide the exact early elections day.
Kitarovic, herself a former HDZ member, had been expected to again give her old party - as the biggest one in the parliament - the mandate to form a new government, after the coalition government collapsed on June 16. However Kitarovic said after holding meetings with political parties on June 17 that almost all political parties want the elections to be scheduled in the beginning of September, Bloomberg reported on June 20.
The move to early elections raises questions over the future of HDZ leader Tomislav Karamarko, who has desperately clung on to his position despite a conflict of interest scandal, and helped bring down the government in the process.
Karamarko resigned from his post on June 15 amid a growing political crisis in the country. Earlier on June 15, the parliamentary conflict of interest committee said that Karamarko had been guilty of a conflict of interest over his wife’s business links to a lobbyist working for the Hungarian energy company MOL, which is locked in a dispute with the Croatian government. Karamarko had also faced a confidence vote on the issue, called by the Social Democratic Party, but this became irrelevant when the HDZ filed a no-confidence motion against Oreskovic.
Karamarko’s resignation was believed to be part of the strategy of the Patriotic Coalition, led by the HZD, in advance of new rounds of coalition talks following the expected fall of the current government. However, Kreso Beljak, leader of the Croatian Peasant Party (HSS), a junior partner in the ruling Patriotic Coalition, told Hina on June 18 that the Patriotic Coalition as such no longer existed.
Ash said on June 9 that Karamarko and the HDZ have been losing credibility with their last gasp effort to stay in power. “The longer this saga goes on the more the HDZ is likely to lose support if we end up going to early elections,” according to Ash.
Karamarko has lost popularity even within his own party recently. Tim Ash from Nomura Securities said on June 9 that 17 deputies from HDZ and its coalition partners did not sign the no-confidence motion against Oreskovic that HDZ had demanded. Ash speculated that the missing signatures suggest some division within the ruling party. Indeed, several leading members of the HDZ have called for Karamarko to step down, including Karamarko’s own deputy Milijan Brkic, according to Ash.
Karamarko postponed the session of the HDZ presidency scheduled on June 20 to June 21, unnamed sources from the HDZ told news agency Hina. The session was expected to demand Karamarko’s resignation, according to Hina.
Gordan Jandrokovic, one of the HDZ deputies who signed the no-confidence motion against Oreskovic, said on June 8 that failure to form a new majority would mean an early election and that the only party to profit from it would be the SDP.
Ash said on June 8 that Karamarko seems to have pressed the self-destruct button on the ruling HDZ, in a desperate bid to save his own political career. The poll ratings of the HDZ are already suffering, and the party could lose heavily in early elections, according to Ash.