A Sudden Meeting of the Prime Minister

Black protocol limousine drove away from the government palace unexpectedly and very quickly. Present, not completely random observers, recognized the back-seat passenger. It was the President of the Croatian Government, Tihomir Orešković. His ride would not have been unusual if other thing had not started only a few minutes before that, also unexpectedly, in the premises of his cabinet: an informing of members of the government on the cancellation of the meeting which was scheduled to begin in less than an hour. The decision on this cancellation was made, literally in a moment, by the prime minister, who immediately rushed out after that. The reason for his decision was not known. In fact, only a very narrow circle of his closest associates knew the reason. Without any doubt, the new head of the Croatian intelligence services, Danilo Mrkić too. In fact, he was the only one who could send such an announcement to the prime minister, an announcement that fully disturbed with its content and changed the aforementioned afternoon, Thursday, June 2. The two of them estimated that it would be the best for the prime minister to cancel the meeting of the government and drive to the state intelligence. Of course, since I do not have any documents, I can only draw a conclusion that Mrkić informed him that part of the ministers would demand a vote of confidence on the prime minister at the session.

Essentially, it was a race with time.
The interpellation against the first vice-president of the Croatian government and the president of the winning parliament party, Tomislav Karamarko, was sent to parliamentary procedure by the opposition just a few days ahead of that. The reason for no confidence was, apparently, a contract concluded by his wife with one of the prominent lobbyists of the Hungarian oil company MOL and never fully explained method of taking management control of the Croatian oil holding company INA by the Hungarian company.
However, it was just a random trigger, which gets a new dimension after a recent statement made by an influential Russian ambassador in Zagreb, Anvar Azimov, that they were ready to buy a controlling stake in INA – Mol and take decisive part in the further development of the Croatian energy sector. Dimensions that substantially exceed the consulting services contract, which was once signed by Ms. Ana Šarić, now Karamarko.

We have to go back to the cause – the last parliamentary elections in the neighbouring country. Karamarko’s party and an associated coalition of smaller parties won, but with an insufficient number of votes to be able to form a government. They needed a political partner, which they eventually got, after complex conversations, full of twists and turns, in the association MOST, which was last elections’ surprise, with its good electoral results. Terms of government cooperation could no longer be set by Karamarko. Instead, they were determined by the president of Most, Božo Petrov. Two provisions were of key importance. First, that the cooperation should not be understood as a coalition that determine the government work plan with a coalition agreement, and that this was a shared governance of two partners instead. With the second provision, they confirmed the intention that, in accordance with the intention of joint governance, the president of the winning party in the elections, Karamarko, could not be the prime minister, but someone else instead. A successful businessman Tihomir Orešković was proposed.
All were, probably, very confident that, as the prime minister, he would act and propose only what he would first agree with the first and the second government vice-president.

And this is where the main cause of the current Croatian government crisis is. Orešković understood his election as a prime minister literally. Or, as he later said, if I take responsibility, then I will make decisions. The president of the country, Kolinda Grabar Kitarović, who is, according to the Croatian legal system, co-signatory of replacements or new appointments in the intelligence services, sent to the prime minister, for only a procedural co-signing, upon the agreement with Karamarko, who is to coordinate the complete repressive, intelligence and defence sectors in the government, a proposal for the replacement of the former intelligence chief. However, it stuck there. Orešković wanted detailed and carefully reasoned reasons for such replacement. Of course, he could not discuss this with his first vice-president, who had no powers for such a discussion in the rules of procedure of the government, but only with the president of the country. That was a key point. Not only as an open message to Grabar Kitarović that her interlocutor was not Karamarko, but the prime minister, but indirectly also to the minister of internal affairs, from the association Most, that the first vice-president has no authority to conduct recruitment in the police.

The president understood the message fully. She can remove intelligence chief only after consultation with Orešković. A period of their consultations, as well as new mutual political sympathies visible to a very small circle of closest associates started. They jointly proposed Danilo Mrkić for the new head of intelligence. And therefore started a new conflict. To be more specific, they agreed on a proposal without consulting Karamarko. His first response was an angry “no”, and then a politically pragmatic refusal of Mrkić who, allegedly, simply could not be elected without parliamentary votes of the winning party and its government partners.
He overlooked an important fact that the other part of the government partners, those from the association Most, fully supported Orešković. Partly because of the good relationship they established, and partly due to the agreement on reducing of Karamarko’s ambitions in the government, as well as due to providing support to their interior minister in his dispute with regard to the personnel competence in the police.

Mrkić was elected in the parliament without the votes from Karamarko’s party. Orešković managed to reach a new political agreement. At the same time, Dr. Miroslav Tuđman, vice president of the parliamentary committee for security and intelligence services, a member of the largest government party, agreed with the decision of the president and the prime minister.

In filing of recent opposition’s demand for parliamentary vote of no confidence on the first vice-president of the government, it seemed as it was going to be rejected smoothly. However, it was a very superficial assessment. The opposition proposal began to gain wider support. The president of the country, elected as the candidate of Karamarko’s party, remained silent. First vice-president of the government began to seek a new parliamentary majority, but without much success. At the same time, it was no longer quite clear whether he had the support of his party’s parliament member. He decided to withdraw his new move in order to cause the withdrawal of the request for a vote of no confidence against him. He suggested a removal of the prime minister, counting that the president of the parliament, out of his loyalty to the ruling party, would put it as first point on the agenda. With a vote of no confidence on the prime minister, a vote of no confidence on the first vice-president would become pointless.

I suppose that the head of the secret service informed Orešković about that intention, and that this was the reason for the sudden cancellation of the meeting of the government last Thursday.

Nonetheless, Karamarko sought for allies in the parliament for a vote of no confidence on the prime minister and also for the new parliamentary majority that could vote for a new government. I was interested in two responses. The response of current mayor of Zagreb and the president of smaller parliamentary party, Milan Bandić, as well as the one within Karamarko’s party, Dr Miroslav Tuđman’s commitment.

Bandić and Karamarko are old acquaintances and allies. In 1990, they agitated in the same electoral district, the first one for now the opposition social democratic party, and the other for, then and now, the winning party of Dr. Franjo Tuđman. Bandić used to help him always, even in the late nineties, when Karamarko was removed as the head of the Zagreb police, discharged from the ruling party and left unemployed. He found him a comfortable consulting office in the Croatian automobile club and later assisted in cooperation with Stipe Mesić, as well as supported him in the election of the current Croatian government. This time, Bandić responded differently for the first time, that his parliament members would not participate in a possible new parliamentary coalition. It was the first and sufficient sign for the assessment that Karamarko’s plan to remove Orešković, prevent a vote on confidence against him and form a new majority without new elections would not succeed.

Dr Miroslav Tuđman added yet another confirmation for the announcement of such failure. He did not want to sign the request of the parliament members of the ruling party for voting of no confidence on Orešković, who, apparently, by interfering in the work of the repressive apparatus, “created political tension in the country, only in order to increase his political power and ambitions to establish a chancellor dictatorship in the country.” Of course, in order to understand the relationship between Karamarko and Tuđman, it would be necessary to explain the events from the period before 2000, when Dr Tuđman was the then head of state security umbrella intelligence service with its headquarters in Kuniščak. With a sudden action of special units of the Zagreb police, led by Karamarko, they surrounded the headquarters of the department, confiscated archives, employees, and forced Tuđman into retirement.

Yesterday, Karamarko proposed a new compromise step. That all three of them should resign. Prime minister Orešković and both vice-presidents, Karamarko and Božo Petrov. This way, they would enable a continued operation of current government through an election of new prime minister.

We shall have to wait a few more days. Primarily in order to see what will be the decision of Tihomir Orešković, because he will not make decisions completely alone.