Croatia: A New Seemingly Reluctant Government Alliance

From left: Andrej Plenkovic, Prime Minister designate Gordan Jandrokovic, Secretary HDZ Photo:Darko Bandic/AP

From left: Andrej Plenkovic, Prime Minister designate
Gordan Jandrokovic, Secretary HDZ
Photo:Darko Bandic/AP

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.

President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic hands new prime minister mandate to Andrej PLenkovic Croatia 10 October 2016 Photo: office of president of Croatia

President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic
hands new prime minister mandate to
Andrej Plenkovic
Croatia 10 October 2016
Photo: office of president of Croatia

 

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)

Croatia: Snappy Dissolution Of Parliament To Snap Elections

 

Croatian Parliament

Croatian Parliament

Croatian politicians have Monday 20 June voted to dissolve the parliament, paving the way for snap elections after bringing down the fragile five-month old government last week through vote of no confidence against Prime Minister Tihomir Oreskovic.
The dissolution of parliament “will become effective on July 15“, speaker Zeljko Reiner said on Monday 20 June. 137 members in the 151-seat assembly backed the dissolution move.
The new election, a snap vote, is likely to happen in early September, as it must be held no earlier than 30 days and no later than 60 days after the date when parliament is dissolved. President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, who will choose the election date, said she would take account of the fact that most parties were in favour of holding the vote after the summer holidays.

At the same time, the majority coalition party in government, HDZ with Tomislav Karamarko at its head, did not succeed in mustering up enough support (76 seats) to restructure a new government. Hence, Tomislav Karamarko has resigned as party leader, leaving the party leadership slate clean for fresh talent with the most chance of beating by a good margin the centre-left Social Democrats at the polls.

 

Karamarko said his resignation will give his party a better chance in the snap elections “this act creates space for new impulses.”
I am resigning in the interest of the party, not because of pressure,” Karamarko said. “I had promised my party that I will be able to create a political majority and I failed, so I take responsibility for that.”

Last November’s election produced a fragile, minority government that was catapulted into power through coalition with Most/Bridge independents and appointing a non-elected Prime Minister. Had there been more experience in this kind of government perhaps all would have been well but, regretfully, the government became the focus of staged scandals by the opposition, disputes over sensitive political appointments, public administration reforms that would mean big job cuts, and Karamarko’s conflict of interest case. Had all this not ended the way it did, had Karamarko not resigned there would have surely been new scandals to bring the government down. This government was doomed from the start and, I would say, much of the blame could be directed at the ousted Prime Minister who, it seems, lost his way somewhere along the line and forgot that HDZ had a list of reforms that needed to be implemented and because of which it was elected as a relative majority in parliament.

 

The prospects of new election results do not point to a much better or different situation. If an elected majority is not a convincing majority, a minority government would again take power joining into a coalition with minor parties or independents and political instability comparable to the one we have just seen in Croatia could well re-emerge. This of course would produce more lasting negative influences on investments upon which reforms and economic recovery depend.

 

HDZ has a huge job to do in the coming weeks if it wants to win government again and much of this work will be safely in the bag if its new leader is a figure many in and out of current HDZ support can respect. Such a person, in my opinion is Andrej Plenkovic, currently HDZ Member of EU Parliament, who has already declared he’ll put his hand up for candidacy. It needs to be kept in mind that HDZ won a relative majority of seats in parliament with promised reforms that have yet to be tested and implemented and if cards are played right with the people, this, and not the confusion of the political crisis just gone, will be in voters minds when they go to the polls in September.
Voters know that Croatia needs decisive reforms to fix its fragile public finances, reduce public debt, which now stands at 86% of GDP, improve the investment climate and stimulate growth. All of this has now been placed on a backburner as snap elections loom. HDZ would do well to reassure the electorate that the reforms needed, and more, are ready to go despite the unwelcome albeit temporary setback with the political crisis just gone. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

Croatian Government Falls – No Love In Politics

Left: Domagoj Ivan Milosevic, Gen Sec. HDZ Right: Tomislav Karamarko, President HDZ Photo: Marko Prpic/Pixsell

Left: Domagoj Ivan Milosevic, Gen Sec. HDZ
Right: Tomislav Karamarko, President HDZ
Photo: Marko Prpic/Pixsell

 

What gigantic three days of last week in the political life of Croatia.
In the wake of the Commission for conflicts of interests decision that conflict of interest applied to him in the case of INA/MOL and his wife’s business dealings, the leader of the majority party in government, Croatian Democratic Union/HDZ Tomislav Karamarko on Wednesday 15 June resigned as First Deputy Prime Minister; but not without emphasising that HDZ, as relatively major seat holder in parliament, was not giving up its fight to form a new government within the 30 days defined by law after a fall of government and that new elections were the very last option HDZ would look to. Indeed, HDZ has been giving confident reassurances that it has decided upon its candidate for the new Prime Minister (current finance minister Zdravko Maric) and that it will in the ensuing legally defined period of 30 days from the fall of current government succeed in achieving 76-seat majority in the parliament.

 

Tihomir Oreskovic, fallen Prime Minister of Croatia Photo: Marko Lukunic/Pixsell

Tihomir Oreskovic,
fallen Prime Minister of Croatia
Photo: Marko Lukunic/Pixsell

The current coalition government fell on Thursday 16 June after only five months in the throne as the Prime Minister Tihomir Oreskovic lost a confidence vote in the parliament.

 

Then in a move that evoked sizeable anger and resentment towards her seeming disrespect of rules and bias, president Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic wasted no time in hogging the public microphone on Friday 17 June, saying that “nobody I spoke with has (during the consultations she had held with members of parliament since the day before) convinced me they enjoy the needed support of 76 or more representatives to achieve the status of Prime Minister.”

I can confirm that a majority has expressed the opinion about the need for early elections,” she continued, adding that it was impossible to shorten the period of 30 days guaranteed by the Constitution and appealed to the president of the parliament Zeljko Reiner to bring the matter of dissolution of the parliament to its agenda as soon as possible! Reportedly most representatives she spoke to expressed the opinion that new elections should be held in early September, however, as per previous practice, one would expect that she would hold more than just one consultation within this important realm that gives her the responsibility to ensure Croatia has a government in place.

 

This is what’s on Croatia’s political plate at this moment:

parliamentary relative majority party HDZ seeks to utilise its constitutional right of 30 days to form a new coalition government rather than go to snap elections;
the country’s president appeals for the parliament to table the decision on its own dissolution prior to the expiry of those 30 days in order to make way for snap elections;
HDZ leader Tomislav Karamarko has announced his appeal against the conflict of interest findings to the Administrative tribunal.

 

Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic President of Croatia Photo: Marko Prpic/Pixsell

Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic
President of Croatia
Photo: Marko Prpic/Pixsell

 

 

As one might expect, this president’s move is fanning ongoing speculations and political postulations as to whether and why in fact the parliament should be dissolved on the day when 30 days expire (15 July 2016). The president’s move appears to be feeding a good deal of members of parliament to keep driving loud opinions that HDZ should bow out of its right to 30 days to form a new government and simply join the rest in speeding up the dissolution. This, of course, is causing a good deal of distressing confusion in public as well as to a politically staged diversion from HDZ’s inherent rights to try and quell ruffled-up spirits and save the government without the need for new elections. The political platform is rife with a push for snap elections, which also reveals many a new political ambition for all-important thrones including the one of the Prime Minister. Even Zagreb’s mayor Milan Bandic, who has till “yesterday” supported Karamarko, has reveled his newfound (?) ambition to put forth his name as candidate for Prime Minister at snap elections, for which he is suddenly raising his other hand. Bandic comments on his stand with the worn-down cliché “…there’s no love (meaning lasting devotion) in politics.” (HRT TV news 18 June 2016)

 

As to the findings of conflict of interest against Tomislav Karamarko, leader of HDZ, these do not seem to have shaken HDZ’s resolve to keep him at the party’s helm for the time being, except with a number of members including Tomislav Tolusic, regional development and EU funds minister, and a political cadaver Vladimir Seks, who I think should have retired from HDZ a long, long time ago. A prominent founding HDZ member and former minister of science and technology dr Ivica Kostovic said for HRT TV news Saturday 18 June that his “experience since he had entered into the government was that he met perhaps 1% of people who were not in a conflict of interest”. (HRT TV news 18 June 2016)

Zeljko Reiner President of Croatian Parliament In response to president's statement Says that HDZ may succeed in forming new government and that new elections may not be needed

Zeljko Reiner
President of Croatian Parliament
In response to president’s statement
Says that HDZ may succeed
in forming new government
and that new elections may not be needed

Indeed, being in conflict of interest seems to have been a dark legacy left from public office administration of former Yugoslavia. That, of course, does not excuse any continuance of operating with conflict of interest – it simply highlights the need to deal with it properly as cases arise and that seems to have been the spirit of Dr Kostovic’s comment.

 

 

Karamarko has wowed that he will take the Commission’s decision to the Administrative tribunal, as he believes he was not in conflict of interest as found by it. It would seem that the Commission had weighed against Karamarko a reported detail that he did not declare his wife’s business dealings with the Hungarian MOL at a reported government meeting, from which there are apparently no detailed minutes, when matter of arbitration regarding INA/MOL issue (i.e. taking back Croatian ownership prevalence in the company of national importance – INA) was discussed. But, reportedly he also did not participate in any decision-making at the said meeting, either. The latter then would raise some alarms regarding the credibility of the Commission’s decision itself. The Commission, as evidencing conflict of interest, reportedly also took into account Karamarko’s personal Facebook status, which said that he was personally committed to Croatia pulling out of arbitration with MOL!

 

Karamarko commented that his personal opinions are well known to the public but that he has never imposed them upon third persons. “I have never had a single meeting on the Government premises with the arbitration on the agenda … It’s possible that I have had meetings outside the Government with Josip Petrovic (MOL’s consultant) but INA and MOL have never been the topic of those meetings.”

Dalija Oreskovic Photo: Dalibor Urukalovic/Pixsell

Dalija Oreskovic
Photo: Dalibor Urukalovic/Pixsell

 

The Commission’s head, Dalija Oreskovic, commented that “Karamarko cannot separate his private opinions from himself as a public figure and that, in that sense, he fell into conflict of interest.” She added “he used his political influence in connection to his opinion about arbitration, so that the potential or possible conflict of interest in these personal opinions and public intercessions point to the finding that the official found himself in a situation where conflict of interest was realised…”

In defending himself against the motion of no confidence last Wednesday, Prime Minister Tihomir Oreskovic told the parliament that the real reason for his ouster was that he started resolving the dispute between INA and MOL, adding that someone was not pleased with it (evidently alluding to Karamarko). It will be interesting to see what the Administrative tribunal will decide regarding private vs public lives (opinions) of a public official. At this stage HDZ wants to reshuffle the government with a new prime minister (Zdravko Maric), with Karamarko remaining as the party leader and digging its heels in at this may work, but it also may not. Next week or so will show whether the worn-down cliché “there’s no love in politics” is actually a double-edged sword that can either damage or benefit HDZ’s efforts to survive in parliament without snap elections. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

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