Last week PM Plenković had to gather enough votes to defend his embattled minister of finance, Marić, and replace Speaker Petrov with Mr Jandroković. At the beginning of the week, analysts were divided in assessing his chances, with slightly more of them betting on his failure. In the end, he managed to spring a fast one (or rather, two) and sail through. Mr Petrov left of his own volition, and Plenković found enough votes to install his own speaker, Mr Jandroković.
And that was hailed as a success. But perhaps Pyrrhic victory is more like it. Plenković obviously assessed his chances right, because he decided not to push his luck and try to get new ministers confirmed. The opposition gathered 75 votes against Marić, just one short of success, and that one could have come from several corners, and his majority for election of the new speaker was the slimmest possible with 76 votes. And at least four of those are highly problematic – one was from a former SDP deputy who left SDP after he was charged with embezzlement in PM’s office, another two from independents who said they would not support Plenković, and one from a HDZ dissident Hasanbegović.
In reverse order, Hasanbegović was ousted from the HDZ just days after his critical vote confirming Jandroković. This happened because the HDZ statute requires automatic expulsion of any member who runs for office without an agreement from the party. And Hasanbegović just appeared as number two on a list of an independent Bruna Esih, who ran for parliament on a HDZ list and won a significant number of preferential votes. Same as Hasanbegović. Esih was one of the two independents who supported Plenković in the parliament, but already said she wants Plenković to guarantee that the SDSS will not be in the new coalition once it’s formed. Similar sentiment was expressed by the other independent, Željko Glasnović, who actually made PM PLenković sign a statement that he will pay pensions to Croatian veterans in Bosnia. The last one, Saucha, was a young SDP star until the beginning of this year when the Organised Crime Prosecutor started investigating him for embezzlement. Saucha left the SDP as soon as the investigation started and the party did not manifest any overt signs of support to his plight. Various media reported him to be “timid”, “looking tired”, “not speaking to his colleagues” and being generally in a very fragile state.
As a matter of course, Plenković received support from eight minority deputies, including three from SDSS led by Milorad Pupovac. The SDSS has been supporting the Plenković government from the start, and decided to stick to their guns. But almost immediately after the parliamentary vote, HDZ vice-president Brkić, who is also one of deputy speakers of the parliament, decided to “remind that this is a Croatian state” and that “Milorad Pupovac and national minorities will not be deciding who sits in the Croatian Government”.
Although Pupovac publicly stated that he intends to look the other way, another MP representing the national minorities decided to publicly withdraw his support for the current government until Brkić’s statements are retracted. This already brought the majority to below 76 needed for a government. Coupled with support from Esih and Glasnović that can easily be withdrawn, and support from a “fragile” Saucha, this makes the majority the government relies on extremely fragile.
Plenković also claimed he has a deal with the HSS, but the HSS publicly denied any such deal and stated several times that it will stay with the SDP.
As a part of delaying tactics, Plenković decided not to propose new ministers before local elections. But the Parliamentary Constitutional Committee met today to determine that he must do so within 30 days from the day he dismissed the Most ministers. Now here might be some room for maneuver because it is not quite clear when their dismissal came into force, but even that is not likely to hold off the pressure to constitute the government and therefore demonstrate majority. Currently, the HDZ is committed to doing so immediately after local elections.
All of this makes new elections very likely. And therein lies the real question – who stands to gain and who might lose if there are general elections soon? And for now, polls indicate that the clear winner would be HDZ and Plenković. Would they have the numbers needed to actually form a government is a separate issue, and for now it does not seem so. And it seems that latest moves are hurting HDZ ratings more than anyone else’s. Most seems to be on the rebound precisely because of their fight with Plenković.
So if Plenković’s intention was to force elections, it looks like a gamble that might go either way. In favor are his relative strength in the party right now, and the visible weakness of his main opponent the SDP. But if he loses he is likely to have to withdraw from the chairmanship of the HDZ, and there are not too many places for his career to go to after that. If he wins, his position will be strengthened and he will be able to deal with opposition within his own ranks. But there do not seem to be any hints where he intends to take the country politically, nor any guarantees that he can actually make it happen. His performance with Most so far leaves grounds for doubt.
On the other side, the SDP seems unable to form a common position on some most basic issues, such as whether elections now would benefit the party or not. Papers report that there are three main factions within the SDP – one favoring immediate elections knowing the party is not likely to do well but hoping to replace the current leadership as a result; one favoring elections in the fall, hoping to get the ratings up by then although it is not quite clear what could drive the numbers; and one advocating elections once the party is strong enough to stand a real chance of forming a government. It seems that the “immediate elections” faction won the last battle, because the vote of no confidence in Marić’s, which would have likely led to elections had it succeeded, included all SDP votes. But it is possible that in a party where confusion runs rampant votes against Marić would not automatically convert into votes against the government.
Whether voters will be tired of a coalition that failed twice in less than a year, or if they would be inclined to cast their vote for a directionless SDP and partners, is a different question altogether.