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Analysis 14 Jun 17

HDZ Embraces Opponents to Remain In Croatia Govt

After a month of twists and turns, the Croatian Democratic Union, HDZ, entered a coalition government with former opponents – a novelty in Croatian politics.

Sven Milekic
Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic during the government session. Photo: Anadolu Agency/Stipe Majic

While he is barely keeping the Croatian government going, Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic seems to be starting a new trend in Croatian politics by creating wide-ranging political coalitions needed for the country’s political stabilisation.

After becoming president of the Croatian Democratic Union, HDZ last July, Plenkovic promised a more centrist turn.

After he entered a political crisis in late April this year – following the sacking of three ministers from junior government partner the Bridge of the Independent Lists, MOST – he offered his hand to centrist parties, in particular the liberal Croatian People’s Party, HNS.

Although the HNS ran in the last three elections alongside the centre-left Social Democratic Party, SDP, its traditional partner, it clinched a deal with the HDZ last Thursday, and was given control over two ministries and one vice-prime ministerial role – taken by the party’s acting president Predrag Stromar.

The government was voted in on Friday, with the support of 78 out of 151 MPs in total.

Despite the dissatisfaction of the public and the media with the coalition, Dejan Jovic, a professor at Zagreb Faculty of Political Sciences, assessed it positively.

Acting HNS president Predrag Stromar during coalition negotiations. Photo: BETAPHOTO/HINA/Lana SLIVAR DOMINIC/MO

Jovic told BIRN that Plenkovic decided “to play a pretty courageous political game in which he wishes to position the HDZ much closer to the political centre than it was before”.

“Secondly, he wishes to strengthen the political centre in Croatia in general, in an attempt to tackle the political polarisation that surfaced once more during the term of his predecessor [HDZ leader] Tomislav Karamarko and [former Prime Minister]Zoran Milanovic,” he said.

He explained that Plenkovic apparently wants to ease tensions between left and right by entering alliances with small centrist parties, such as the HNS.

Therefore, according to Jovic the success of the whole plan rests on the centrist parties as well, while the public and the media “should give Plenkovic a chance… since he is starting a new trend in Croatian politics”.

Additionally, he said, if these centrist parties “don’t comply”, a coalition with HDZ’s traditional main opponent – the SDP – becomes a possibility.

“I think we’re talking about a very difficult attempt to convert a two-hump camel [the HDZ and the SDP] into a one hump camel [a strong political centre] … It’s very hard to do if you want the camel to live,” Jovic quipped.

“However, there is no certainty that this attempt will end in success,” he concluded, adding that if all the centrist and leftist parties reject going into coalition with HDZ, new elections will only result in the strengthening of right-wing and radical parties.

Foreign Minister Davor Ivo Stier explaining his resignation. Photo: BETAPHOTO/HINA/Lana SLIVAR DOMINIC/MO

Croatian Foreign Minister and Vice-Prime Minister Davor Ivo Stier announced his resignation on Monday, saying that he will devote himself to the goal of “the promotion of the Christian democratic option” in parliament rather than as a minister.

More conservative and closer to right-wing circles, Stier did not support the coalition with the HNS and has argued for the need for new elections.

As he remains the political secretary of the HDZ, some speculate whether he will challenge Plenkovic on the party level.

Read more: Davor Ivo Stier, Ideologist Behind Croatian HDZ’s Centrist Path

Tomislav Saucha (in the middle) in the parliament. Photo: Beta

The new HDZ-HNS government was voted in on Friday, with the support of five out of nine HNS MPs – the others announced they were leaving the party – plus national (ethnic) minorities’ MPs and certain individual MPs.

One of them is former SDP member, Tomislav Saucha, who is being investigated over his alleged responsibility for having signed off 40,000 euros worth of per diem allowances for fictional trips by three government advisers as former head of the office of former Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic.

Read more: Probe Expected to Resolve Croatia’s ‘Per Diem’ Scandal

An MP from the country’s Italian minority, Furio Radin, told BIRN in May that he “he firmly stands behind his decision” not to support the government’s new ministers unless Plenkovic distances himself from HDZ official Milijan Brkic, who said it was up to ethnic Croats to decide matters in Croatia.

Although Plenkovic never distanced himself from Brkic’s statement, Radin nevertheless supported Plenkovic’s new ministers on Friday.

Read more: HDZ Hardliner Infuriates Croatia's Minority MPs

Ivan Vrdoljak telling BIRN that HNS will not enter a coalition with HDZ. Photo: HNS

After HNS party member, Anka Mrak-Taritas did not manage to win in the second round of the local elections against incumbent Zagreb Mayor Milan Bandic, party president Ivan Vrdoljak proposed that his party joins a coalition with the HDZ at a meeting of the party presidency on June 6.

However, faced with opposition in the presidency – some of it from Mrak-Taritas – he offered his resignation, saying he was leaving politics and that he “doesn’t want to split the party” on the issue.

But the HNS’s central committee decided to support the coalition with the HDZ on June 7, although many members decided to leave the party.

In an interview with BIRN in mid-May, HNS president Vrdoljak said that the HNS will not support the HDZ.

“There can be no talk of our support of the HDZ, either by joining the government or by supporting them in a minority government from parliament,” he said.

Read more: Croatian Liberal Leader Rules out Supporting HDZ

Croatian parliament votes on Finance Minister Zdravko Maric. Photo: BETAPHOTO/HINA/Lana SLIVAR DOMINIC/DS

On May 3, after the coalition between the HDZ and MOST effectively ended on April 27, parliament came into session for a no-confidence vote on Finance Minister Zdravko Maric.

The opposition, led by the SDP and the HNS, filed the no-confidence motion alleging a conflict of interest during the crisis of the country’s biggest private company Agrokor – currently under state management – due to Maric previous career in the company. MOST decided to support the opposition’s initiative.

However, Maric barely survived the vote with 75 MPs voting ‘for’ and 75 MPs ‘against’ him on May 4.

One of the most crucial votes was Saucha’s. Although he signed the opposition’s non-confidence motion on April 20, he voted “for” Maric.

Another important vote was the one from independent MP Zeljko Lackovic, who changed his opinion at 1am on May 4.

Marin Skibola, an independent MP on the list of anti-establishment Change Croatia, voted ‘for’ Maric although claiming he would vote ‘against’ a day before.

Right-wing renegade Zeljko Glasnovic left the plenary hall before the vote, therefore ensuring that neither of the sides got the crucial 76th hand.

Faced with removal by the HDZ, national minorities, the HNS and few individual MPs, MOST’s leader Bozo Petrov left his post as parliament chair on May 4. Therefore HNS decided to remove MOST from the position of chair although MOST supported their plea for removing Maric.

Read more: Petrov Quits as Chair of Croatia Parliament

Bozo Petrov handing over the position to Gordan Jandrokovic. Photo: BETAPHOTO/HINA Lana/SLIVAR/DOMINIC/MO

On May 5, the HDZ managed to show it had a minimal majority in parliament, with 76 MPs supporting HDZ MP Gordan Jandrokovic as the new parliament chair.

Saucha again supported the HDZ, as well as Glasnovic, who decided to support the government after being assured that funds would be given to the Bosnian Croat 1990s war veterans – in whose ranks he fought during the war.

Read more: Croatian HDZ Musters New Majority in Parliament

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