Bozo Petrov, the head or the front-man of Croatia’s new reformist political group Bridge/ (“MOST” in Croatian language), which is likely to hold the balance of power in forming a new government as it won 19 seats on 8 November and neither of the two big parties with coalitions won enough to form government, said last Wednesday 11 November 2015 Bridge/ MOST wanted a government of national unity that included itself and the two major parties (Croatian Democratic Union/HDZ and Social Democratic Party/SDP), the governing centre-left and the opposition centre-right coalitions. So, after gaining a possibly pivotal position that could make or break the government of Croatia the members of the Bridge of Independent Lists, MOST, appeared to have grown wings of inflated egos and began calling the shots and dictating, including that neither Tomislav Karamarko (leader of centre-right) or Zoran Milanovic (leader of centre-left) should become the next Prime Minister of Croatia but that MOST will have the decisive say as to who should be the next Prime Minister.
Furthermore the sudden fame seemed to have affected one of the Bridge/MOST prominent leaders, Drago Prgomet, in a destructive way so much so that he was caught meeting in secret with leader of centre-left Zoran Milanovic and Ante Kotromanovic (minister of defence in outgoing government) supposedly attempting to negotiate “private” deals MOST may want if it went with SDP to form government! Prgomet was swiftly booted out of the Bridge group and I am actually glad for that because his actions demonstrate a lack of political responsibility for the nation and a still-present repulsive inclination to act on personal friendship level rather than with professional distance at critical times such as these.
Many of the political analysts in Croatia say a government of national unity, including such traditional rivals as the SDP and HDZ, will not work. Tomislav Karamarko refused the coalition for a national government idea, saying that it was “not a good idea” to include the SDP in any future government after it ruined the economy. Zoran Milanovic also refused the idea and SDP rejected any such coalition for government that would include SDP and where he would not be the Prime Minister.
Governments of national unity are seen these days in countries of war and unrest and they occurred in the past in various countries in times of war but in days of democracy or when democratic processes should be working well and seen to be working suggesting a government of national unity is a backward step for democracy and for the inherent weight of decision making and political choice and competition within it. Croatia did form a national unity government in 1991 under Prime Minister Franjo Greguric in response to the outbreak of Serb led aggression against Croatia and the Croatian War of Independence. Even though the cabinet included ministers from minority parties, all heads of ministries were either from the majority Croatian Democratic Union/HDZ or soon defected to it; but of course it’s difficult to imagine the composition of such national government could have been different for HDZ was a politically sweeping popular movement and the left-sided League of Communists and their political allies did not want an independent and democratic Croatia in the first place. But when the war situation stabilitised on the battlefields that national unity government was dissolved and new elections held in August 1992.
So Bridge/MOST group would want us to think that Croatia is in a crisis of similar intensity and threat as it was in 1991 and that national unity government is essential in order to move forward. According to the Croatian news agency HINA, A professor of economics and member of the Bridge coalition of independent candidates, Ivan Lovrinovic, said on Friday 13 November that Croatia only had the year 2016 to make significant changes in its economic policy and a radical turnaround in reforms, otherwise it risked bankruptcy.
If no radical reforms are launched next year in the monetary and tax systems, the judiciary, public administration and public companies, the system will collapse and Croatia will have a situation similar to that in Greece, Lovrinovic said.
Members of Bridge/MOST met on Saturday 14 November 2015 in the Ethno Houses Village at Plitvice National Park presumably to align a united front – after the embarrassing ousting of Prgomet during the week – ahead of meeting with both centre-right HDZ and centre-left SDP coalitions with view to forming the new government in Croatia.
Asked on Saturday 14 November at the Ethno Houses Village whether Bridge/Most will continue insisting on a government of national unity for Croatia or move ahead by negotiating individually with each of the two big political coalitions (centre-right and centre-left) Bozo Petrov replied that Bridge continues with “same consistency” vis-à-vis the need for reforms while others called for “an absolutely different program, and today they are absolutely for reforms”. “That pleases us, just as we are pleased that the voters have shown how much they care for reforms…For the general well-being it’s very important that we have a two-thirds majority, because voting for some reforms will require constitutional changes,” said Petrov.
Two thirds of the 151-seat parliament equals 100.3 seats! So even if Petrov did avoid answering the question put to him by journalists one can conclude that Bridge is still after a government of national unity as with current election results it is impossible achieving a two-thirds majority by striking a deal with only one of the two possible large sides (HDZ or SDP). While reforms are necessary for Croatia, concepts such as “crossing the floor” to vote in parliament (for or against matters on agenda) may be alien to the seemingly and relatively young politicians and inexperienced democratic parliamentarians such as Petrov and members of the Bridge/MOST? Perhaps negotiating and lobbying to achieve a greater goal for the nation are skills a tad or two foreign to Croatian democratic thought and practice – in general? It’s difficult to interpret MOST’s insistence on two-thirds majority government in any other way – they should know that securing two-thirds of parliament seats for a government does not necessarily secure the success of voting for reforms within the parliament.
One thing also niggles: given that Bridge/MOST group had campaigned in their election campaign against the Zoran Milanovic SDP government, on the premise that it had proven an incompetent government which destroyed and devastated the Croatian economy, why would the same group now want to seek that the same Social Democrat/SDP politicians are taken into a new government whose main task would be to work on reforms that would lift up the economy away from the threatening bankruptcy!? Petrov had said that Bridge/MOST would be talking to HDZ and SDP during the coming week.
It seems to me that Bridge/MOST or rather some of its members who have been elected have bitten off the needed-reforms cake more than they can chew, as it seems clear that coming up with strategies for achieving the needed reforms are not within the items of their strengths.
Petrov, the Bridge leader, is seeking to commit both the HDZ and SDP to drastic austerity measures. He has agreed to tolerate a minority government, but only if it implements harsh reforms and yet he insists on two-thirds majority government! If the government wavers from this course it will be toppled, he asserts. But, if new elections are called due to lack of agreements and consensuses in forming the new government in the coming week or so the results could, of course, go against Bridge/MOST – perhaps if because of nothing else then because of its lack of resolve and details in their vision of how to make Croatia a place of better living standards. Bridge/MOST has not demonstrated it has the skills to achieve the reforms it so skilfully listed on its election campaign agenda. Indications are that new general elections are imminent for January 2016 – unless a turnaround occurs and Bridge’s/MOST’s political appetites simmer down. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)