After an extremely long period of negotiations, the Croatian Sabor (Parliament) approved the centre-right government led by Tihomir Oreskovic. Although the path towards the formation of the government was not easy at all due to the numerous turnarounds and unexpected complications, Oreskovic managed to get an impressive amount of 83 votes (while he needed ‘only’ 76). However, his situation will not be as easy as it might seem at first glance. The parliamentary majority is extremely heterogeneous; the newly elected PM will constantly have to make compromises and struggle against his internal opposition.
But first let us jump back to November 2015.
There was only one thing sure after the November 8 parliamentary elections in Croatia: nothing could be taken for granted. The Patriotic Coalition (Domoljubna koalicija) led by Tomislav Karamarko (HDZ) became the relative winner of the elections with 59 mandates, however, they did not manage to obtain absolute majority (not even with the help of smaller parties or the representatives of the minorities) as the left-orientated ruling coalition of Zoran Milanovic managed to get 56 chairs in the Parliament.
Nonetheless, tight results were to be expected. On the other hand, the 19 parliamentary seats of MOST (Croatian for ‘Bridge’) seemed to be a big surprise for everyone. This relatively new party and its leader Bozo Petrov found themselves in an awkward situation. They had the political power to play the kingmaker’s role, while they were constantly ignored or humiliated by leading politicians from both sides.
Back then, right after the elections, the formation of the parliamentary majority (and thus the new government) seemed to be relatively simple – at least compared to what was still to happen. Although Petrov warned everybody well in advance not to count on easy talks, one could expect that he would sit down and listen to what Karamarko and Milanovic had to say (or perhaps offer) in order to form a government together and eventually choose the better option.
As it turned out, there was a lot more to it than that.
The process at first seemed to be a fairy tale (especially when Petrov called for a tripartite government and was harshly rejected both by Karamarko and Milanovic), then a never-ending story, which in December eventually turned into a drama.
This time the kingmaker’s favourite role was played by MOST and their leader Bozo Petrov.
MOST cannot be defined as a classic political party but rather a heterogeneous alliance of young politicians and experts who are keen on changing the current political system. Petrov had to face severe internal conflicts; each and every one of the original 19 parliamentary deputies had his or her opinion about how and with whom to continue the negotiations.
The first consequence of these internal conflicts was the expulsion of Drago Prgomet from the party. He held a secret meeting with Zoran Milanovic, who was reportedly trying to break MOST into fractions in order to ensure his parliamentary majority. He did not leave MOST alone but with three fellow members – the four ‘dissidents’ formed a new party called Hrid.
However, further internal conflicts are more than visible as Ivan Lovrinovic (one of the party’s main strategists) refused to support the government. According to media reports, he had strong ambitions to become a minister but his request was turned down despite all his efforts. Interestingly enough, his two closest allies followed him only in criticising the government but eventually they were among the 83 who supported Oreskovic.
It is still not known whether MOST melts down to 12 deputies due to this conflict because the three ‘renitents’ claimed to be still part of the party, while maintaining the right to have different views from the actual leadership.
Even the political rivals have to acknowledge the way Petrov insisted on his demands. When they felt necessary, MOST had the courage to threaten HDZ with stepping back from the negotiations. This might seem to be open blackmail but we can be sure that such assertive behaviour is quite common behind the scenes.
If we take a look at the members of the new Croatian government, the over-representation of MOST is clear (compared to their 12 or 15 members in the Parliament). Maybe the ‘role of MOST’ should be rephrased as the ‘rule of MOST’.
Apart from them, if there is any political actor in Croatia who came out reinforced from the political crisis so far, it is President Grabar-Kitarovic. She constantly seemed to have a plan: first when she announced to expect at least 76 signatures from the party leader who wants to become the Prime minister-designate – though it has to be mentioned that she probably wanted to prevent Zoran Milanovic from forming another government this way. Later she warned everybody that she would not let the negotiations flow on for ages, and finally she was on the verge of appointing a technical government that would have led Croatia until the new elections.
One might argue that she just wanted to give HDZ and Tomislav Karamarko as much time and support as possible to ultimately form the new government. This might have been the situation at the very beginning, however, as the old saying goes ‘the appetite grows with what it feeds on’. There are several indicators which suggest that she already saw her ‘own government’ in position.
Of course, her technical government per definition would not have been a long-lasting one; still, her ambitions of becoming an independent and relevant political actor came to the surface. In her pursuit of independence she might even collide with HDZ, the party that originally supported her in the presidential elections.
There are numerous other factors that also played a role in this outcome, beginning from the Catholic Church through the impact of the refugee crisis on the popularity of political leaders, not to speak of the economic situation. Several questions are still open, for example the position of both Milanovic and Karamarko is questioned, although to a different extent.
SDP’s internal conflicts are linked to their defeat, whereas Karamarko is being criticised for being too lenient with MOST. Petrov mostly got what he wanted, which means that prominent HDZ politicians were left out of the government.
We should not forget that the actual one is not the final structure of the government. HDZ and MOST did not have enough time to come to a conclusion about the number of ministries, state-owned agencies etc. A reshuffle is scheduled in six months’ time, when another round of harsh debate is to be expected.
The role of PM Oreskovic is also disputed. Some suggest that Karamarko will be ‘the strong man’, while others claim that he will have control of what he wants to. One of his benefits is that he comes from the financial world and has never been part of the ruling political elite in his motherland. He has the advantages of being an outsider, while he is expected to bring new ideas and a breath of fresh air to the political scene.