Croat govt faces confidence vote on graft, economy

ZAGREB Tue Oct 19, 2010 3:01pm IST

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ZAGREB (Reuters) - Croatia's coalition faces a no-confidence vote over corruption and economic problems, which may fail but will highlight the country's political instability as it aims to conclude European Union entry talks next year.

The Social Democrats (SDP), Croatia's leading opposition party, will file the motion in parliament this week against the conservative-led government of Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor, a party spokeswoman said.

Kosor's government still commands a slight majority and is unlikely to fall in the vote. However, the SPD holds a solid edge in opinion polls over Kosor's Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) a year before a general election is due to be held.

"We plan to file the motion on Wednesday. Then, the vote must take place within 30 days," SDP spokeswoman Ivana Grljak said. The vote can be held seven days after the motion is filed at the earliest.

"Even though this time the opposition will probably not succeed, they want to send a message to the smaller ruling coalition partners to think twice before they continue to support the HDZ government," said political analyst Viseslav Raos.

Croatia is in the final stages of EU accession talks, which it hopes to complete by mid-2011. A major condition is that it fights an unrelenting fight against widespread corruption.

The HDZ has accused the SDP of wanting to slow EU accession and stop the anti-graft investigations with the confidence vote.

Croatia is one of the few emerging European nations whose economy will contract for a second year in a row in 2010. The government adopted a recovery programme in April, but most analysts and the opposition say it has been implemented too slowly.

In-fighting has plagued the HDZ since former Prime Minister Ivo Sanader quit without explanation in July 2009 and his successor, Kosor, launched a major anti-corruption drive.

The SDP said that the current government, which is little changed from Sanader's, is responsible for high-level corruption in the public companies.

A local court sentenced former deputy prime minister Damir Polancec to 15 months in prison last week for abuse of office and state funds. Polancec is also indicted for corruption in two other cases.

After his conviction, Polancec said that top HDZ officials had put pressure on the judge presiding over his case, after he rejected their request to implicate Sanader. The HDZ has rejected his claims as false.

Polancec became the most senior government official sentenced in the anti-corruption drive, during which a dozen managers in state companies have been detained. In most cases indictments are still pending.

Sanader, who was expelled from the HDZ in January after a failed party coup, wants to return to parliament in what some analysts see as a fresh attempt to destabilise his former party.

The next regular general election in Croatia is due in late 2011. Kosor says she is confident her government, supported by several smaller parliamentary parties, will complete its term and secure EU membership.

"It is quite likely that early elections would risk the conclusion of the EU entry talks within the targeted schedule," Raos said.

(Reporting by Igor Ilic, editing by Zoran Radosavljevic and David Stamp)

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