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Croatian President calls snap elections

July 16, 2016

The right-wing governing coalition had collapsed about 8 months after being elected. The coalition was torn apart by right-wing ideology and a corruption scandal involving a deputy prime minister.

Deputy Prime Minister Tomislav Karamarko at center of corruption scandal
Deputy Prime Minister Tomislav Karamarko is at center of corruption scandalImage: picture alliance/PIXSELL/J. Galoic

Croatia's president called a snap election Saturday after the collapse of the governing coalition less than a year after it was formed.

"President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic has decided to call an early parliamentary election on September 11," according to a statement from her office, which came one day after parliament was formally dissolved.

The right-wing government, led by the conservative HDZ party, struggled from the start as the party clashed with its junior reformist party Most (Bridge).

With no decisive winner in last November's election, the coalition partners sparred over the country's lurch to the right, as well as a political scandal.

The feuding derailed the implementation of badly needed economic reforms. The country is still trying to get past a six-year long recession that ended in 2014.

Prime Minister Tihomir Oreskovic speaks from podium with Croatian and EU flags behind him.
Oreskovic's government collapsed after no-confidence voteImage: picture alliance/PIXSELL/P. Macek

The government had hoped to reduce the public debt, which has reached 87 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). They wanted to begin a debt reduction program that would take it to 80 percent of GDP by 2019.

There were also plans to reform various sectors, including the ailing health sector, pension system and state-run companies.

The governing paralysis worsened after it emerged that the wife of a HDZ leader and powerful Deputy Prime Minister Tomislav Karamarko became ensnared in a business deal involving a lobbyist for Hungary's oil company, MOL.

The oil company has taken Croatia to arbitration over its national oil group INA, in which it is a primary shareholder.

No confidence in the PM

The HDZ filed a motion of no-confidence against the unaffiliated Prime Minister Tihomir Oreskovic, a former pharmaceutical executive.

Oreskovic's government collapsed in June, and that was instantly followed by Karamarko's resignation, as the scandal had taken its toll on the party.

In addition, a national ethics watchdog ruled that Karamarko had a conflict of interest, but he insisted it was a "fabricated affair."

Opinion surveys show the main opposition Social Democrats (SDP) with a solid 10 percent lead over HDZ.

President Grabar-Kitarovicgreb Kroatische speaks into microphone with checkered Croat symbol behind her.
President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic calls for snap electionImage: Imago/Pixsell/S. Midzor

SDP was in power for four years until last November's vote. The SDP signed a coalition deal with three junior partners on Saturday and seems set to win the early election.

"The coalition gathers the left, the center and the center-right ... everyone who backs a progressive Croatia," SDP leader and former prime minister Zoran Milanovic told journalists after the deal was finalized.

He said the 'People's Coalition' would "focus on labor and education" and move Croatia away from a far-right surge and a climate of intolerance.

"Our place is in Europe," Milanovic said, "this is where we belong and this is where we return."

bik/bw (AFP, AP, dpa)