December 22, 2015 / 3:22 PM / 2 years ago

Croatia's small kingmaker party halts talks on new government with leftist bloc

ZAGREB (Reuters) - Croatia’s small reformist Most party on Tuesday renounced coalition talks with the outgoing Social Democrats (SDP), saying it was trying to poach some of its members, in the second month of squabbling since an inconclusive election.

Most, meaning “bridge” in Croatian, holds 15 seats, enough so that no party can form a cabinet without its support. Since the Nov. 8 vote, Most has held talks with both the SDP and the opposition conservative party HDZ.

President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic held a fourth round of consultations with the parliamentary parties on Tuesday in the hope of reaching a deal.

She is due to make an announcement later in the day on what steps will be taken. If no one proves capable of forming a government she must call a new election, although there is no legal deadline for such a move.

Most leader Bozo Petrov said the Social Democrats (SDP) had tried to convince some Most deputies to join them in the event that talks on a coalition government fail. “We cannot have confidence in such a partner,” Petrov told reporters.

Prime Minister and the SDP leader Zoran Milanovic rejected the accusation and said his party had accepted almost all of Most’s conditions for a future cabinet.

The November polls gave the main opposition conservative HDZ party 59 seats in Zagreb’s 151-seat parliament, three more than Milanovic’s center-left bloc.

Croatia, the newest European Union member, is under pressure from the bloc to enact reforms, including some to encourage investment and restrain public debt, which is running close to 90 percent of gross domestic product.

Any prolonged delay in forming a government could hold up these much-needed changes.

Most wants a reformist government comprising all three parties, and a non-party, technocrat prime minister. However, the party has also said it was ready to side with one of the major parties if the other rejected its conditions.

The conservatives have rejected the trilateral talks but said they could accept Most as a partner in the government. Most, founded three years ago by municipal politicians and independents, says it wants to overhaul Croatia’s bloated public sector, reduce debt and attract foreign investors.

“Most can hardly be seen as a credible partner as it has changed attitude several times during the coalition talks.” political analyst Ivan Rimac said.

Croatia’s economy is expected to grow around 1.5 percent this year after it lost 13.1 percent of its overall output from 2009 to 2014.

Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky

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