May 26, 2016 / 8:12 PM / 2 years ago

Croatian government in doubt as coalition partners split over confidence vote

ZAGREB (Reuters) - The future of Croatia’s center-right government was in doubt on Thursday after the junior coalition partner said it would support the removal of the deputy prime minister in a confidence vote to be held by June 18.

Croatia's Prime Minister-designate Tihomir Oreskovic, new First Deputy Prime Minister Tomislav Karamarko and new Deputy Prime Minister Bozo Petrov (R-L) seek approval for the new government in the parliament in Zagreb, Croatia, January 22, 2016. REUTERS/Antonio Bronic

The move could topple the four-month-old government and trigger a snap election.

The opposition Social Democrats filed a no-confidence motion against Tomislav Karamarko earlier this month, saying he could not remain in government due to an alleged conflict of interest posed by a business deal between his wife and a lobbyist friend.

“Due to his political responsibility and a burden he represents for the government, it would be good if he withdrew from his role in the executive,” Bozo Petrov, leader of the small reformist Most (Bridge) party, said in an interview for the Jutarnji List daily.

Karamarko, who leads the conservative HDZ party, the biggest party in the coalition, has denied that his wife’s business dealings with a long-time friend and contractor for Hungary’s MOL, - the biggest shareholder in Croatian energy company INA - presented any conflict of interest.

He offered to exempt himself from decisions on INA until the case was resolved.

The government, led by technocrat Tihomir Oreskovic, is to give its opinion on the case for Karamarko’s resignation on Friday. Petrov said he had informed Karamarko that Most would vote for his withdrawal from government.

The State Commission for the Resolution of Conflicts of Interest, a body appointed by parliament, last week began an investigation into the accusations against Karamarko. The commission can impose fines on officials found to have conflicts of interest.

The government, which took office in late January, vowed to pursue reforms that would ease doing business, boost growth and reduce unemployment and high public debt. Croatia has just started to recover after a six-year-long recession and an election would delay the pace of reforms.

Reporting by Igor Ilic; Editing by Janet Lawrence

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