PM Plenkovic: Populism and demagoguery would not receive public support. This is a moment when masks are falling down

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Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic on Wednesday energetically defended Finance Minister Zdravko Maric, whose dismissal had been requested by the opposition SDP party, telling the Bridge party, his HDZ party's coalition partner until recently, that masks were falling down and that their populism and demagoguery would not receive public support.

"Zdravko Maric holds a PhD degree, he was an assistant finance minister and a state secretary... Do you have the impression that he did something to the detriment of Croatia's finances? I don't," Plenkovic said in the parliament.

"Maric served as a minister in the government led by Tihomir Oreskovic, (Bridge leader) Bozo Petrov was a member of that government, and (Maric) was close to (Bridge) ministers (Slaven) Dobrovic, (Ante) Sprlje, and (Vlaho) Orepic. They cooperated in drawing up laws, on the tax reform," Plenkovic said, adding that he never made any distinction between the HDZ and the Bridge ministers and Maric, who was not a member of any party.

"The government is not a debate club... It is the highest executive body of authority in Croatia. There can be votes and differences of opinion on sector-related laws, but there are fundamental and key issues that boil down to trust and loyalty," he said.

"You can't sit on the same government and in a moment when the government decides on the SDP's motion and the question is asked who is for, who abstains and who is against, you raise your hand to give the colleague, who sits next to you, the thumbs-down as if he were a gladiator in an arena. I won't let that happen in my government, with my political principles and integrity," he said, to which Speaker Bozo Petrov of the Bridge party warned him not to trivialise the situation.

Addressing Bridge MP Nikola Grmoja, Plenkovic said that he was nervous and that for four days Bridge MPs had been buzzing around "like wasps, mosquitoes and flies."

He recalled that Bridge members were aware that cooperation with the HDZ would be over if they showed such a degree of disloyalty.

"That has happened and that's it. People take off their masks in crises, the political partner we chose based on an internal party consensus does not even want to allow Minister Maric to say something here to dismiss the Opposition arguments but is denied support at a government session," he said.

Plenkovic insisted that the three points the SDP based its motion for Maric's dismissal on were unfounded.

He went on to say that he was ready for local elections, set for May 21, as well as parliamentary ones, whenever they might be held.

"But the burden of responsibility for a no-confidence vote in Maric is not on the government but on those who do not want (Maric) as Finance Minister, so let them find 76 signatures (for Maric's dismissal)," Plenkovic said, adding that voters were aware what Bridge was doing.

"Your populism and demagoguery will not end well. You can be sure of that. That is why this is a moment when masks are falling down," Plenkovic told Bridge.

Finance Minister Zdravko Maric on Wednesday described arguments from the opposition SDP party's motion for his dismissal as "unfounded and beside the mark."

"I especially dismiss (allegations) that with any of the decisions I have made as an office holder I have favoured or put private interests before public interests. As for the alleged conflict of interest, the fact that I worked in Agrokor for four years does not disqualify me from performing duties as Finance Minister. I believe that with my work in the private sector I have gained additional experience that has helped me in the analysis of economic problems," Maric said in his address to the parliament.

He went on to say that after his appointment as Finance Minister the only thing that connected him with Agrokor was care for the stability of Croatia's economic and financial system. He said that he did not hold shares in any of Agrokor's companies and that there was no contract on his return to Agrokor after he ended his term as minister.

"Insinuations against my family are base because nobody from my family works in Agrokor and I have no private interests there," he said.

Maric went on to say that he was Agrokor's executive director for capital market strategy in charge of making macroeconomic analyses and presenting operative programmes for medium-term plans and budgets.

He said that he received financial statements once they were completed and that his information about Agrokor was based on publicly available assessments by rating agencies.

"I can say with a clean conscience that I did all of my jobs in a dedicated, responsible and fair way... I can accept a critical discussion about the results of my work but I cannot accept the questioning of my professional and human honour and integrity," he said.

Text: Hina

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