The head of Croatia’s ruling conservative party, Tomislav Karamarko, resigned today (21 June) after his involvement in a conflict of interest affair triggered the government’s fall.
“I promised the party to form a new parliamentary majority and I failed,” Karamarko told reporters explaining the reasons for his move, which was seen as an attempt to boost his HDZ party’s prospects at elections due by mid-September.
His resignation comes a day after deputies voted to dissolve parliament, paving the way for the early election.
Technocrat Prime Minister Tihomir Orešković lost a vote of confidence last week.
HDZ was the main party in his fragile coalition, cobbled together after indecisive November polls. Its work was marred by constant internal disputes between HDZ and its junior partner, Most, amid concerns over Croatia’s shift to the right.
The political crisis escalated last month when news emerged of a business deal between a lobbyist for Hungary’s oil group MOL and Karamarko’s wife.
MOL is currently in arbitration with Croatia over its national oil group INA, in which it is a major shareholder.
A national ethnics watchdog ruled last week that Karamarko, then deputy premier, had a conflict of interest due to the deal – although the politician himself insisted on Tuesday it was a “fabricated affair”.
As the coalition descended into chaos and coalition partners traded calls for resignations, HDZ filed a no-confidence motion against premier Orešković, a former pharmaceutical executive with no party affiliation.
Karamarko became HDZ chief in 2012 and was re-elected in April.
The 57-year-old former intelligence chief shifted HDZ to the right and was criticised for fostering a growing climate of intolerance and a far-right surge in the country.
Surveys now give the opposition Social Democrats, who were in power for four years until the November vote, a tiny lead over HDZ, whose popularity ratings have been hit by the oil affair.
Local media suggest the HDZ’s likely next chief will be Andrej Plenković, the party’s moderate deputy in the European Parliament, who has said he would be ready to take over.
Snap elections will delay much-needed reforms in the European Union’s newest member, whose economy remains one of the worst performers in the bloc.