Croatian finance minister's narrow vote win puts pressure on PM

By Igor Ilic
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Croatia's Minister of Finance Maric is seen at the government building in Zagreb

Croatia's Minister of Finance Zdravko Maric is seen at the government building in Zagreb, Croatia May 4, 2017. REUTERS/Antonio Bronic

By Igor Ilic

ZAGREB (Reuters) - Croatia's Finance Minister Zdravko Maric survived a no-confidence vote on Thursday, but the razor-thin margin indicated conservative Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic faces a tough fight averting a snap election after the ruling coalition's collapse.

In a vote that was seen as a test of parliament's support for the prime minister, the opposition and Plenkovic's former coalition partner, the centre-right Most ("Bridge") party, mustered 75 votes against Maric. That was one short of the 76 needed in the 151-seat parliament.

Most quit the coalition last Friday after Plenkovic fired three of its four cabinet ministers. The prime minister now has to decide if he has enough support to propose new ministers to parliament or opt for an election.

So far, Plenkovic has shown no sign of calling a snap poll. On Thursday he said he preferred political stability but ducked questions about when he might put his eventual choice of new ministers to a vote in the assembly.

"It is not a topic today," the prime minister told a news conference.

"The HDZ and I are ready for an election, but we want to keep stability and it is now up to other parliamentary parties to show if they want the same."

He added that consultations were already underway with other political parties.

A snap election would be the second in less than a year and would delay economic reforms needed to boost one of the weakest European Union economies.

Shortly after the no-confidence vote, Bozo Petrov, leader of Most announced he was resigning as speaker of parliament.

Parliament is scheduled to break from Friday to allow for campaigning ahead of municipal elections on May 21, though it can be convened should Plenkovic seek the assembly's backing for new ministers.

The no-confidence motion against Maric was demanded due to his alleged conflict of interest and lack of credibility in handling a financial crisis at Croatia's biggest private firm, Agrokor, where he was a senior executive until early 2016 and where the government has appointed crisis managers.

(Reporting by Igor Ilic; Editing by Richard Lough)