The relatively quick clamping together of seemingly partially jumbled-up support to Croatian Democratic Union/HDZ to form a new government led by Andrej PLenkovic is nothing short of miraculous. Whether this was the energising effect of Andrej Plenkovic’s firm resolve to become the PM that set the mood for seemingly smooth negotiations that occurred during past three weeks to form a government, or whether it was that everyone including the minor parties and independents and ethnic minorities’ representatives had become to fear the effects of their own actions in ousting the former government – hence, fearing same could happen to them, is worth keeping an eye on. As smooth as negotiations appeared, certain reluctance did show on several negotiating faces. I did in one of my previous articles say that I thought the resolve and strength of the resolve to be the PM expressed by Plenkovic could well prove a positive force for the negotiations process for new government. However, I also thought that negotiations would be tricky for HDZ and particularly so given the oddball coalitions among various parties in elections.
Somehow the feeling prevailed that negotiations weren’t tricky after all, that quite a few minor parties or independents were quite happy to stand in a queue and wait their turn to talk to Plenkovic and HDZ and offer support. There was some sheepishness and reluctance showing for the support given to HDZ on quite a few faces, though. This perhaps can be explained by the fact that many now supporting HDZ carried strong animosity against the same HDZ only a couple of months ago and find it difficult to explain/justify their change of heart to the public or simply see that a government must function at whatever cost or everyone in parliament is out of a job, themselves included.
Andrej Plenkovic, HDZ, managed to harness 30 signatures of support to form government and with their 61 HDZ has now a 91-seat (out of 151) strong support to govern Croatia. So, why aren’t there more cheers among those 30 supporters than what we saw on their faces and rather forlorn eyes since Monday? 14 signatures from Most/Bridge coalition led by Bozo Petrov are said to be HDZ’s preferred partner in government and yet the same people dug deep pits to bury the former HDZ leader Tomislav Karamarko on basis of supporting trumped up allegations of conflict of interests because of his wife’s business deals. This time around, MOST/Bridge has even agreed to share the Speaker of Parliament position with HDZ – it will be represented by the MOST alliance for the first two years and then by the HDZ for the second two-year term,” Andrej Plenkovic said.
Then there are 7 of the 8 ethnic minority representatives noticeably wrestling their way in to be in on the game of the new government, even if it was obvious they were eating their own words that sent Tomislav Karamarko and the previous HDZ led government onto the scrap heap. The stench of “backroom” deals particularly with Milorad Pupovac (a leader of Serb minority) and Furio Radin (leader of Italian minority) intoxicated the air many breathed in. Pupovac threatened not to have anything to do with HDZ government if Zlatko Hasanbegovic continues as its minister and then within a day all this was forgotten and Pupovac kept saying that he trusted Plenkovic and whatever his decision will be, he (Pupovac) will respect it. We now need to wait and see whether Hasanbegovic (vilified wrongfully as ultra-nationalist and fascist because he wants justice for victims of communist crimes by many including Pupovac) will remain culture minister or not; whether Pupovac’s turnaround into a meek-and-mild pro-HDZ lamb has come about through some backroom deals to do with Hasanbegovic. Then Furio Radin of the Italian minority was on the same tracks as Pupovac but has suddenly turned a long gloomy face that wants to see what HDZ will do with their “inclusion” – you see, Radin likes inclusion it seems, as if it’s a completely new desirable concept. As if there had been no inclusion occurring in Croatian society at all. Oh dear, what a waste of political space these leaders occupy.
Then, the past three weeks of negotiations to form new government saw the Croatian Peasant Party/ HSS with its 5 seats doing somersaults, backflips, and all the contortions of a trapeze artist in order to weasel out of its formerly unwavering strong coalition with centre-left Social Democrats (HDZ’s staunch enemy) and start stroking down the conservative HDZ’s winning streaks. First it was said they’d only give HDZ government 100 days of benefit of their support and then withdraw it and go back into a fierce opposition, and now, well it seems HSS feels cozy tagging behind HDZ for as long as necessary for the HSS to actually survive as a political party with its current leadership. And then Milan Bandic (current Zagreb mayor and a person desirous of a prime minister-ship mandate) and his party’s 3 seats, naturally left-leaning lot, are also supporting HDZ for government. So, all in all the full circle of minority government and its support in Croatia could well end up one motley crew where the old saying “too many cooks spoil the broth” comes alive.
While conservative HDZ was a thorn in the eye of many of these coalition partners only one month ago it all looks now as though it’s hip to be with HDZ once again. So why aren’t there more smiling faces around? There is a feeling that the coalition is rather brittle and lacks confidence and strength – as though the minor partners are putting HDZ to the test and if test not passed Croatia could see more of what occurred in June this year with the toppling of the previous HDZ-led government. Generally, if one paid attention there was reluctance and lack of vigour on the leading faces of HDZ’s partners (MOST/Bridge, Ethnic Minorities, HSS …) when they spoke of their support of HDZ for new government. Which made me think that the support came at a cost. I hope that the cost, if it exists, will not be detrimental to the Croatian national being.
HDZ has yet to put out the new government’s program and given the significant support in numbers it has achieved without a program, things are looking up for Andrej Plenkovic. Well done.
“Economy, jobs, legal security and demographic renewal will be the new government’s priorities,” Plenkovic told reporters after receiving the nomination. “Together with our partners, we will also work on creating an inclusive, tolerant society.”
Nothing we haven’t heard before but the fact that it was Plenkovic who said it this time, rather than anybody else, could make all the difference. The prospect of a new government led by Plenkovic may end political turmoil that has prevailed since the June collapse of the previous government, also composed of HDZ and Bridge, in a conflict-of-interest scandal surrounding former HDZ leader Tomislav Karamarko. The cabinet’s collapse delayed a planned administrative overhaul and threatened to impede recovery from the longest recession on record in Croatia.
Under Plenkovic’s leadership, HDZ has pledged to cut income and value added taxes/GST. Plenkovic has also vowed to reduce public debt, which reached 87% of gross domestic product.
Whether reluctant or not the support Andrej Plenkovic received for form a government is amazing – he will “control” almost two-thirds of the parliament and such support has not been seen in Croatia since 1990’s and year 2000. This would seem to dictate that he must achieve or be seen as achieving most iof the needed reforms within his first three to six months in office. If he does not achieve this then, given that 2017 is the year of local government elections in Croatia, HDZ stands to lose ground across Croatia. The likely key to Plenkovic’s success will be his relationship with MOST/Bridge’s Bozo Petrov and one hopes it will not deteriorate as it did in the previous government. But Plenkovic has another ace up his sleeve – if Petrov gets difficult there are always the other minor parties or representatives in the HDZ support mix that can save a day or two before its government slips back into instability.
A month to the day since September elections Croatian President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic appointed Monday 10 October Andrej Plenkovic of the conservative Croatian Democratic Union/HDZ prime minister designate, setting the stage for a new government to be named within a week, for sure. A new government that will end months of uncertainty and staged scandals that threatened to undermine economic recovery.
“We all want the new government to be stable, constructive and efficient,” said President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic. “I believe we are entering a new phase of political life … when we will start dealing with important existential issues.”
All that Plenkovic has promised his government will do has been promised before. The parliament is more or less made up of same people, give or take a dozen or so new faces, but nothing that is truly significant. So it must be that the will to cooperate by minor parties and independents is actually quite heavily associated this time to HDZ leader Andrej Plenkovic and not to HDZ as party. The risk of that for HDZ is that if Plenkovic does not deliver in the eyes of the conservative voters it, the party, is likely to suffer enormous exodus of voter support at next elections; and perhaps a new conservative stronghold will emerge on the political map of Croatia. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)