Croatia Finally Gets a Government, But It Was Not Easy

  • Jan Surotchak

When the November 8, 2015 parliamentary elections in Croatia ended in a tie between the center-left Croatia is Growing Coalition led by now-former Prime Minister Zoran Milanović and the center-right Patriotic Coalition led by Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) Chairman Tomislav Karamarko, it was already quite clear that negotiations to form a government would be neither brief nor easy. 

With each of these two blocks holding 59 seats in the 151-member parliament, the hunt was on for coalition partners to make it to the magic number of 76, and target number one for both coalitions was the political upstart Bridge of Independent Lists (or MOST) party led by Božo Petrov, which was created only in 2012, but had taken 19 seats in the election with a “pox-on-both-your-houses” campaign vis-à-vis the two large political blocks. 

MOST’s opening demands were clear, and tracked closely with its need to remain as much an anti-establishment party as it could, even as it sought to join the establishment by helping to form a government.  Put simply, the party demanded that it would join no government led by the chief of either coalition, so Milanović and Karamarko were both out of play.  Early on in the negotiations, Karamarko made clear that his party would not join any form of grand coalition with the center-left, so the debate quickly turned to which side would ultimately be able to make a deal with MOST.  Thus began a month and a half of claims and counter-claims that resulted in announcement of a center-left/MOST government on December 22 and of a center-right/MOST government on December 23. 

In the end, a deal was made for both Karamarko and Petrov to take deputy prime minister positions in a government led by Tihomir Orešković, an ethnically-Croat Canadian businessman who had spent his professional career to date in the pharmaceutical industry in Canada, after having emigrated with his parents when he was an infant.  Known colloquially as “Tim,” Orešković has formed a cabinet consisting of 12 ministers (from the HDZ, six from MOST and five independents.)  The new government formally took office on January 22, 2016, a full 76 days after the elections.  In the lead-up to his swearing-in, Orešković said, “I came here as a Croat from Canada to help my country” and quoted Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau who said he wanted his country to “become a gentle and friendly nation.” 

There’ll be no honeymoon for the new government, though, as the partisan tensions that have long defined political life in this newest member-state of the European Union show no signs of abating.  Although the new prime minister has the advantage of not having been part of these struggles, the leading parties are still in many ways fighting the ideological fights of the days of the formation of today’s republic in the crucible of the Yugoslav civil war. 

Even as the government was sworn in, for example, the center-left opposition and supporting media had begun their attacks on Minister of Culture Zlatan Hasanbegović and Minister of Veterans Affairs Mijo Crnoja for their respective comments on history and loyalty to independent Croatia.  One very bright spot is new Minister of Foreign and European and European Affairs Miro Kovač, a diplomat with a distinguished series of postings for Croatia, among other places in Brussels, Paris and Berlin.  Coming to the office from the position of international secretary of the HDZ, Kovač also ran the presidential campaign of Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović of the HDZ who won the presidency in January 2015.

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