Published in Nacional number 776, 2010-09-28
Ministerial pre-election purge
Jadranka Kosor's housecleaning list
Following the Prime Minister's statements on impending personnel changes in cabinet, the names of several ministers have crystallised in discussion among HDZ members as candidates for dismissal
While in the USA Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor said that she would let some of her ministers go — it is quite clear who some of these will beIvan Suker, Branko Vukelic and Durda Adlesic are very likely to lose their cabinet posts by the end of the year. Also probably one her way out of Croatian Government is Marina Matulovic-Dropulic, and perhaps even Bozidar Kalmeta. These are the names that have been most often mentioned in rumours circulating within the ruling party, whose membership was surprised by a statement delivered by Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor concerning an impending personnel change in Government. Besides the announced sacking of some ministers, many were surprised that Prime Minister Kosor has made one of her most provocative statements thousands of kilometres from home - during her visit to the United States. And while some feel that Prime Minister Kosor was out to win stronger American support for her administration and possible a better rating for the HDZ among foreign policymakers ahead of the elections for Parliament, some in the domestic corridors of power feel that the Prime Minister simply used the opportunity to announce the bad news for some of her colleagues while abroad, far from the pressure and calls of concerned HDZ members.
Whatever the case, the fact alone that rumours began to circulate within the HDZ (Croatian Democratic Union) concerning the very concrete names of possible "former" ministers just a few hours after her announced personnel changes in Government signals two things - that many in the HDZ believe that they have an ever-smaller chance of winning the coming parliamentary elections short of some sweeping changes and unexpected decisions, and that they are very well aware within the party which ministers are "spent." Some have been publicly linked to scandals, some continually have a poor or very negative popular rating and for some, like former HSLS member Durda Adlesic, there is no compelling reason for them to continue to hold a seat in Government. As a result of it all it is clear that Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor wants a partial reconstruction of her cabinet aimed at removing those that Government, and the HDZ, have more to lose than to gain from. At the same time she will try to bolster her own position with the appointment of their replacements, i.e. finally set a distance from the administration that was in fact created by her predecessor, Ivo Sanader.
Since some of the ministers mentioned in the context of these changes are also members of the HDZ presidency, the body that de facto runs the country, it will be interesting to see whether Prime Minister Kosor will have the political clout to win the support of the top party body for the announced changes, i.e. from the very people she allegedly intends to sack. The possibility that Ivan Suker might lose his ministerial seat comes as no surprise to many. The bad state of the economy in the country, trouble drafting a budget and filling the national coffers, bad economic forecasting and the incessant taking on of new debt are the only things associated with Suker over the past two years. All of the negativity associated with him is made worse by his irritating demeanour in public, in which he arrogantly, haughtily and antagonistically repeats the tired and evidently erroneous proposition whereby there is no recession or dire economic trouble in Croatia. The Minister of Finance recently further eroded his public standing when giving his testimony to a parliamentary inquiry into the privatisation of INA. Having stated that he, as a member of the commission assigned to amend the INA stockholders agreement, voted in favour of the deal with MOL without having read the key documents, Suker in the opinion of many demonstrated that his place was not in Government and that he had no more credibility to negotiate with foreign partners and banks.
That Suker's statements also succeeded in angering some of his party political colleagues is borne out by the fact that there was a very lively discussion about the entire matter at one of the sessions of the HDZ presidency, and sources from within the party have confirmed for the press that Suker was in fact in an unenviable position those days and that a decision to sack him could be made at any moment. Nevertheless, Suker was not sent packing in the end, but many say that this is only for the time being, and top HDZ officials want to make use of Suker once more before letting him go - he and his aides should soon wrap up the proposed state budget for the coming year which, expectedly, the public and opposition will receive with a great deal of criticism, and that could then be used by the HDZ leadership as the formal cause for sacking Suker. Then, of course, the HDZ could lay the blame for all of the bad aspects of the national budget on the sacked Suker. And while much has been said of Defence Minister Branko Vukelic in the context of a sacking, he has only of late made the unwritten list of possible "former" ministers. Recent events in his department have certainly contributed to this, of which the recent crash of two Croatian Air Force jets was the most extreme example. Vukelic's unpreparedness for unexpected accidents and rumours of a deteriorating situation in the Croatian Armed Forces have once again placed the focus of public attention on a minister that has in the past been linked to a number of scandals.
MINISTERS IN PERIL The departures of Suker and Vukelic are considered to be a sure thing, while Kalmeta's position has been shakenVukelic has been brought directly into connection with the major Brodosplit and military lorry scandals, and his role in the Maestro scandal has also never been explained, where some of those arrested defended themselves claiming that they carried out dubious privatisation deals on orders from Vukelic, at the time the economy minister. All of these scandals were hushed up during the Ivo Sanader administration, but over the past year he has been mentioned often in connection to allegations that a state-sponsored bridge construction over the Korana River linking Karlovac to his hometown of Vukmanicki Cerovac was carried out under his orders. And while he has steered clear of the public spotlight over the past months, the HDZ leadership feels that the opposition could use the pre-election period to once again point to Vukelic's misdeeds in the past and thereby directly attack the party. And since suffering a heart attack in October of last year Vukelic has, allegedly, not been in the best of health, and is allegedly himself considering a kind of withdrawal from cabinet. Which is why there are hints that his sacking could be the easiest solution - a deal that would see the party offer Vukelic political protection and him accept the dismissal.
For former HSLS (Croatian Social Liberal Party) member Durda Adlesic a seat in Government is very much in question. And while Jadranka Kosor and Durda Adlesic were often at odds during the Ivo Sanader administration, their relationship has improved significantly since Kosor took up the post of Prime Minister. Nevertheless, in the current situation it is truly difficult to find a single reason to keep someone whose party has in the meantime left the ruling coalition, a party whose ranks she herself has also left, at the post of Deputy Prime Minister. If one takes into consideration that many HDZ members have always been opposed to out-of-party ministers, which some, like Duro Popijac, have decided to address by joining the party, it is quite clear that the HDZ leadership is just waiting for an opportune moment to finally see Durda Adlesic out of Government House at Banski dvori. Domestic political circles have also mentioned Minister Marina Matulovic-Dropulic in connection with a possible cabinet reshuffle. And while she is one of the most reticent members of the cabinet, Minister Dropulic has allegedly on several occasions run afoul of Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor, but little has been known to date of their falling outs as they for the most part took place at sessions of the HDZ presidency or at closed door sessions of Government.
And Minister Dropulic has for years been alleged to have connections to big money and the powerful construction lobby, which the opposition could once again use during the election campaign. Working against her is also the fact that many people in Zagreb feel that in some way, directly or indirectly, her ministry, and perhaps she personally, played a role in the Flower Square scandal and the construction projects of Tomo Horvatincic. As a result the HDZ with her would find it difficult to criticise the SDP (Social Democratic Party) over Milan Bandic in the nation's capital during the election campaign, and by doing so perhaps slightly improve the many years of poor showings the HDZ has had in Zagreb. When it comes to Minister Bozidar Kalmeta there have been very contradictory rumours circling for some time - last week he was mentioned as a possible candidate to take over the post of HDZ party leader, while some in the party see him as one of those on the way out of cabinet. The reason for this lies in the fact that Kalmeta has for the past few months completely withdrawn from the public spotlight and has actually not revealed his plans to anyone - some interpret this secrecy as strategy motivated by long-term intentions, while other lean to the conviction that Kalmeta has grown tired of it all and that high-level politics no longer holds his interest. Indicative of this is the fact that despite being fingered as a person that Vladimir Seks plans to install as party leader, Kalmeta has never LITTLE KNOWN CONFLICTS Minister Marina Matulovic-Dropulic has to date on several occasions quarrelled with the Prime Minister behind closed doorsseriously discussed the possibility with anyone. Whatever the case, if he stays on as minister Kalmeta will come under heavy fire from the opposition concerning the many scandals in his department, and the possibility is not excluded that he and the Prime Minister might arrange his departure from the ranks of cabinet in the near future.
Even then the possibility that Kalmeta could be one of the key people preparing the HDZ election campaign far from the public eye is not excluded, because the number of HDZ MP's from Kalmeta's county has earned him the reputation of being a very good election strategist within the party. Whatever the case, for any personnel changes to occur in cabinet Prime Minister Kosor will have to secure the prior agreement of the HDZ leadership, and the aggravating circumstance is that some of the minister's that could be sacked are also members of the HDZ presidency. In other words, in order to dismiss some of them, they themselves have to agree to it. That is only possible if some of the ministers want out of cabinet anyways, or if the party leadership makes a joint strategic decision to slowly and quietly move some of the compromised ministers out of the limelight ahead of the elections. But even if this were to succeed, Prime Minister Kosor will face an even tougher task - whom to appoint to the empty ministerial seats?
Word has it Marina Dropulic and Durda Adlesic are on their way out
EVER SINCE THE HSLS LEFT the ruling coalition, Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor truly has no clear reason or benefit in keeping Durda Adlesic at the post of Deputy Prime Minister. On the other hand, there are ever more frequent rumours of the Prime Minister's squabbles with Marina Matulovic-Dropulic, for years an untouchable and powerful minister, who leaves the impression of being a very reserved person in public. At closed door meeting in Government House and at sessions of the HDZ presidency, however, Minister Dropulic has allegedly very frequently quarrelled with the Prime Minister, who is considering the possibility of appointing someone else to her post.
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