Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) president Tomislav Karamarko said on Thursday that his party did not support Robert Podolnjak as a candidate for Parliament Speaker because the issue was too serious to be treated as a done deal.

"The issue of electing a parliament speaker is too serious for this country, which is in a grave economic situation. It cannot be done by ad hoc measures and, I would say, a done-deal approach. Signatures (in support of Podolnjak) were collected only by SDP members and Mr Podolnjak turned down the nomination. We, as the relative winners of the elections, want a parliamentary majority to be formed first, then everything else will be easier," Karamarko told reporters in the parliament.

As for relations between the HDZ and the Bridge reformist party, Karamarko said that they would continue negotiations. "We are negotiating a package - both the parliament speaker and the prime minister and all the other relevant positions, which does not mean that some of those positions cannot go to Bridge. I regret that Mr Podolnjak had to go through this situation today because he is an expert and a hardworking man," said Karamarko.

Asked why the HDZ had given up on Zeljko Reiner as its candidate for Parliament Speaker, Karamarko said that they had wanted to see what would happen during the session.

"We are flexible and ready for that unity but not... for the kind of unity designed by Zoran Milanovic and his friends and colleagues and for underhand games. You could see that some Bridge members were rather surprised (today)," said Karamarko.

Croatia needs a strong and serious government capable of responding to current challenges and the HDZ wants to discuss this in "a package". "When the parliamentary majority is formed, everything will be fine," he said.

"A new election would be very bad but we are ready for that option as well. It would cost 120 million kuna, and the budget has already been exhausted," said the HDZ chief.

 Asked if by insisting on a joint government of the SDP, the HDZ and Bridge Bridge had caused a dead-end situation, Karamarko said: "It's like making iron wood, it's impossible. We will talk with the people from Bridge. We have had excellent, constructive talks so far and will continue with them. We will try to find out why we should sit at the same table with the people who have been destroying the country for four years and how we should do it," said Karamarko.

He refused to say what kind of compromises the HDZ was willing to accept. "That is a matter to be discussed with our colleagues. We will be very open as we have been so far," he said.

Asked how long the talks could last, he said that as far as his party was concerned, the talks could be completed on Monday or Tuesday.

Asked if he had been summoned by the police for an interview regarding an investigation into reports of trading in parliamentary seats, Karamarko countered jokingly: "I?! A former minister of the interior?"

"There was no pressure, no way. That is the significant difference we have been talking about the whole time. I, as the party president, instructed my party colleagues not to approach Bridge individually."

Commenting on the case of Mirko Raskovic, who was elected in the November 8 parliamentary election on the slate of the Independent Democratic Serb Party (SDSS) but left the party a few days ago after complaining that he had been exposed to pressure with regard to which candidate for Prime Minister-designate he would support, Karamarko said that Raskovic was a man of principles.

"Mr Milorad Pupovac (SDSS vice-president) said that all eight minority deputies must support the left political camp. I don't know why all minority deputies would be of the left political orientation. It is beyond my understanding," said Karamarko, adding that minority members of Parliament had to represent the interests of their respective ethnic minorities and not the interests of the left or the right political camp.

"We all have to protect Mr Raskovic's right to think with his own head and the fact that he was interviewed yesterday by the police is proof of the nature of the incumbent regime in Croatia," said Karamarko.

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