tihomir orešković.jpg
Photograph: HINA/ Damir SENČAR /ds

Croatia's parliament late Friday backed the country's new prime minister, Tihomir Oreskovic, and his centre-right cabinet with 83 votes in favour, 63 against and five abstentions.

Oreskovic, two deputy premiers and 17 ministers, were sworn in immediately after the marathon 14-hour debate.

The Canadian-educated, formally non-partisan premier said his cabinet would target economic growth, investment, sharper competitiveness and an improved standard of living.

But he faces massive challenges. Chief among them are urgently needed economic and administrative reforms. At the same time there is worry about a fragile economic recovery that emerged in late 2014 after six years of recession.

Croatia, on the so-called Balkan migration route which around 1 million people took over the past 10 months en route to western Europe, will also have to deal with migrants pressing from the south and ever tighter borders in the north. 

The leaders of the two parties in the governing coalition, Tomislav Karamarko of the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) and Bozo Petrov of Most, a newcomer ticket of small regional parties that came in third in November elections, are the two deputy prime ministers.

Oreskovic, a longtime financial executive with Israeli and Croatian pharmaceutical companies Teva and Pliva, had no apparent links to politics until two months ago. Several of his ministers are also little known to the Croatian public.

For instance, the Most nominated Ante Sprlje, a judge who served only three years in the town of Metkovic, to be justice minister, and a former Catholic nun who mostly worked with addicts, Bernardica Juric, to the welfare portfolio.

The appointment of historian and far-rightist Zlatko Hasanbegovic as the minister of culture and Mijo Crnoja, who proposed a “registry of traitors,” as the veterans minister - both by HDZ - stirred sharp criticism from the opposition and protests by civic groups.

Oreskovic’s cabinet marks the return of HDZ to power after a four-year reign of Zoran Milanovic’s Social Democrats. Since Croatia’s independence in 1991, the HDZ has only once before been in opposition, from 2000-04.

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