The ruling Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) party will either have to patch together a new majority or call an early election after splitting from its current coalition partner, the Bridge of Independent Lists (Most), HDZ leader and Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic told reporters on April 27.
This is the second HDZ-Most government to collapse since the November 2015 general election, and plunges Croatia back into political uncertainty at a time when the economy is making a strong recovery after years of recession, which could result in further holdups to planned reforms.
The split within the ruling coalition is an indirect consequence of the debt crisis at Croatia’s largest employer, food and drink giant Agrokor.
The main opposition Social Democratic Party (SDP) had called a no-confidence vote in parliament against Finance Minister Zdravko Maric, a former Agrokor manager, who they accused of being responsible for the crisis at the struggling company.
A government motion on supporting Maric in the upcoming confidence vote was on the agenda for the regular cabinet meeting on April 27. Three of Most’s four ministers present at the meeting – Interior Minister Vlaho Orepic, Minister of Justice Anto Sprlje and Energy Minister Slaven Dobrovic – voted against the government motion to support Maric, according to media reports. Most’s fourth minister, Deputy Prime Minister Ivan Kovacic, was not present at the meeting. Most was previously said to be discussing a vote against Maric, but no official decision had been announced.
Plenkovic is then understood to have announced he would sack the three rebel ministers, and asked the cabinet secretary to prepare a decision on their dismissal. This sparked a war of words between the two former allies that continued through most of the day. Most leader and Parliament Speaker Bozo Petrov told reporters after the meeting that ministers could be formally dismissed only if the parliament speaker co-signs the prime minister’s proposal to hold a confidence vote in the parliament.
Following Petrov’s comments, Plenkovic held a press meeting to say that the prime minister could dismiss the ministers without having a co-signature from anyone. “Ministers who are unable to support their colleagues cannot be members of my government. Dismissal is the only possible responsible move,” Plenkovic said in a strongly worded statement.
“We will ensure the stability of Croatian institutions, political stability of the government… which will enable the continuation of everything we are doing,” he added.
Miroslav Simic, an MP from Most, responded by saying said that the prime minister has violated the constitution by displacing ministers without a parliamentary vote and Most was planning to appeal at the Constitutional Court. Most’s ministers will continue with their regular activities, according to Simic.
However, after sharing his initial comments with reporters, Plenkovic held an emergency meeting with his party presidency and announced HDZ’s decision to end the current coalition government. The party’s presidency has given its full support to Plenkovic to launch the process of seeking a new majority in the parliament.
“I expect the [new] parliamentary majority will be formed. Otherwise, I personally and also HDZ are ready for new elections,” Plenkovic told reporters following a meeting with his party presidency, according to Total Croatia News.
The HDZ currently has 61 MPs in the 151-seat parliament. If Plenkovic could manage to attract support of 15 MPs from other parties, he will be able to form a new coalition government.
The vice-president of the Independent Democratic Serb Party (SDSS), Milorad Pupovac, told reporters he believes that all eight minority MPs would continue to support HDZ in forming new majority.
Ivan Vrdoljak, the president of the small but influential liberal-left Croatian People’s Party (HNS), dismissed speculation that HNS would be part of the new coalition government, while the president of the anti-establishment Zivi Zid (Human Shield), Ivan Vilibor Sincic, also reiterated one more time that his party, which surprisingly increased its seats to eight at the latest snap election in September 2016 from just one in November 2015, is closed to any coalition options.
The previous coalition between HDZ and Most, which was formed following the November 2015 elections, was also collapsed after the Most decided to support a no-confidence vote against the then HDZ leader and then deputy prime minister Tomislav Karamarko. However, the parties formed a second coalition after the September 2016 election under Plenkovic.
The Adriatic country is currently headed to also local elections to be held on May 21. Plenkovic denied the split from Most was linked to the upcoming polls.