ZAGREB (Reuters) - Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader, who led his former Yugoslav republic into NATO and pressed for European Union membership, resigned on Wednesday and said he was quitting politics.
“I have decided to withdraw from active politics and not to run for the presidency,” Sanader told a news conference after his sudden resignation.
Sanader had served as prime minister since his conservative Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) took power from Social Democrats in 2003, and local media had speculated he would step down as prime minister to run for president in early 2010.
The HDZ won 14 out of 21 counties in local elections in May, but its second term has been marred by the global crisis and an impasse on Croatia’s EU entry talks, stalled because of a veto neighbouring Slovenia imposed over a border row.
The next general election is due in late 2011.
Sanader gave no reason for his surprise announcement. “There is always a time in life for a new beginning,” he said. “Such a moment has come and now it’s time for others to take over.”
Croatia’s economy is expected to shrink around 4 percent this year. Unemployment has risen steadily this year and exports fell some 13 percent in the first quarter.
“The new prime minister-designate will be my deputy Jadranka Kosor. We have already secured majority signatures in the parliament and I expect the (parliamentary) procedure to be relatively fast,” Sanader told the news conference.
“My decision was not easy and I’ve been thinking about it a lot,” he said.
Sanader, who transformed his party from a hardline nationalist movement into a conservative party, set membership of NATO and the European Union as his main political goals.
Croatia joined the NATO alliance in April.
It had aimed to close accession talks with the European Union by the end of the year, but a row with EU member Slovenia prompted Croatia’s foreign minister last week to acknowledge it would be “extremely difficult” to achieve that target.
Sanader told the news conference he believed the EU accession talks could be completed in three months.
A scholar and former athlete, Sanader took over the HDZ in April 2000, succeeding the country’s first president, Franjo Tudjman, who died five months earlier.