In the next three weeks, Croatia could find out whether there will be early parliamentary elections, something not really seen in 26 years of Croatian multiparty democracy.
With the decision by MOST on Thursday to support SDP’s motion of no confidence against HDZ president and First Deputy Prime Minister Tomislav Karamarko, which was confirmed on Friday when all ministers from MOST voted against Karamarko at a cabinet session, the ruling coalition crisis has entered its most dramatic phase yet. Since vote on SDP’s motion has to take place in Parliament by 18 June at the latest, we should know by then whether Croatia might go to early parliamentary elections.
What follows is an overview of four possible scenarios how the situation might develop.
1. HDZ accepts MOST’s demand and replaces Karamarko as First Deputy Prime Minister
This is probably the least likely option. Since MOST’s ultimatum is now public knowledge, such a decision would be interpreted as HDZ’s weakness and would demonstrate to MOST they are able to extract literally any concession from HDZ just by threatening to leave the government. Even though Karamarko is not a popular figure, even within his own party, HDZ leadership would never allow for some minor party to dictate who will be their main representative in the government. Speeches at Saturday’s HDZ party congress clearly demonstrated that the party has united behind Karamarko, at least for now.
2. MOST changes its mind and decides not to vote against Karamarko
Given the tendency of MOST to change its opinion quite a lot, which was demonstrated numerous times during the post-electoral coalition negotiation, it would not be terribly surprising if they were to change their mind again and say that Karamarko could stay after all. One possible excuse would be a positive decision for Karamarko by the Commission for Conflict of Interest Prevention which is investigating his case, even though it is not completely certain that it will issue its opinion before the vote in Parliament. Still, since MOST leader Božo Petrov has repeatedly said that their decision not to support Karamarko did not depend on the opinion of the Commission and the harsh accusations which HDZ and MOST have been exchanging for the last few days, another change of opinion by MOST does not seem to be very likely. But, the pressure on MOST will be enormous.
3. HDZ manages to find enough MPs to support Karamarko even without MOST
The main issue is how many of 15 MOST’s MPs will stay loyal to Božo Petrov and vote against Karamarko. So far, two have already confirmed they are probably going to vote in favour of Karamarko, and the third one is likely to join them. Others have literally stood behind Petrov when he made the announcement about not supporting Karamarko, but it is quite possible that at least some of them might change their mind before the vote in Parliament. HDZ is known to be quite capable in “convincing” MPs from other parties, so this outcome would not surprise anyone. There is also a number of MPs belonging to smaller parties and independents who might be persuadable to support Karamarko, or at least not show up for the vote in Parliament. Long-term consequences of such outcome would be hard to guess. MOST’s ministers who voted against Karamarko would probably have to leave the government, and it is not sure who would replace them. And, if HDZ would have majority in Parliament without MOST, the question is what would happen with Prime Minister Orešković. The only reason why he was appointed as the Prime Minister in the first place was the fact that MOST did not want to accept Karamarko or any other HDZ member as Prime Minister. But, without MOST in the picture, there would no longer be any reason for Karamarko not to fulfil his dream of becoming the head of Croatian government.
4. Karamarko loses the vote and has to leave the government
If no one changes their mind and if MOST and the opposition remain united in their opinion about Karamarko, he would lose the vote and be dismissed as the First Deputy Prime Minister. The government would not survive this and the early parliamentary elections would most probably be unavoidable. There is a slight chance that MOST and SDP might form a new ruling majority, but after all the events from the last six months, it does not sound particularly likely. A telling sign might be the timing of the vote itself. If the vote takes place before the final deadline, that would mean that HDZ has managed to convince enough MPs to support its president. If the deadline approaches without the vote being scheduled, the chances for Karamarko would get slimmer and the “price” which HDZ would have to pay for MPs to cross to its side would be getting higher and higher. If it is clear that Karamarko will lose the vote, it is quite possible he might resign himself together with all of HDZ ministers in government in order to avoid the embarrassment of being the first member of any government in Croatian history who was voted out of office by Parliament. Prime Minister Tihomir Orešković would be left in government with just six MOST’s ministers and would probably also tender his resignation.
There are two additional factors which have to be taken into account. One is the possible decision of the Commission for Conflict of Interest Prevention, which might happen before the vote in Parliament. If it is positive for Karamarko, then some MPs might use it as a excuse to support him. Vice versa, if the Commission were to determine that Karamarko was in a conflict of interest, that might make it easier for HDZ and him personally to accept that he should resign and maybe save the government in that way. The other factor is the election of members of the Constitutional Court, which has to happen before new elections can take place. Current Court’s term ends in early June and it takes two thirds of the Parliament to elect new members. The expectation is that the two largest parties, HDZ and SDP, will make a deal and elect ten new members, five from each of the two sides of the political spectrum, irrespective of what happens with the government.