Published: 13:14, April 20, 2024 | Updated: 13:17, April 20, 2024
Croatia's top court bars President Milanovic from PM post
By Reuters

Croatia's President Zoran Milanovic casts his ballot to vote in the country's parliamentary elections at a polling station in Zagreb on April 17, 2024.  (PHOTO / AFP)

BELGRADE - Croatia's Constitutional Court ruled on Friday that President Zoran Milanovic cannot take up the more powerful position of prime minister after this week's elections, saying he could not head any potential coalition.

Hours later, Milanovic dismissed the court´s ruling, saying parliament was the only institution that could decide who will be prime minister - though he did not spell out how he planned to challenge the decision of the country's top tribunal.

President Zoran Milanovic has accused the court of being biased in favor of his rivals in the ruling conservative Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) party

The president has accused the court of being biased in favor of his rivals in the ruling conservative Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) party. 

The HDZ, led by current Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic won Wednesday's election with 61 seats but without securing a parliamentary majority, triggering negotiations among various parties to form a governing coalition.

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A coalition led by Milanovic's opposition Social Democratic Party (SDP) came second with 42 seats. The result made it unlikely that Milanovic would become head of the government, but the court said on Friday he could not do so even if he managed to find enough support among smaller parties.

The far-right Homeland Movement took third place with 14 seats, potentially giving it a decisive role in getting the HDZ over the line.

The court, which has the last word on constitutional matters, said Milanovic had failed to adhere to a March court warning that he should resign from the presidency before campaigning for the prime ministerial post again.

"By his statements and behavior the President of the Republic ... has put himself in a position where he can neither be a mandate holder for the composition of the future government nor the Prime Minister," the court said.

Milanovic held a press conference soon after and said the priority was for parties to form a parliament and then negotiate who would lead the government.

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"This is a sovereign will of the parliament, not of the Constitutional Court," Milanovic told a news conference. "They can say whatever they want but they cannot do anything."

Milanovic dissolved parliament on March 18, triggering this week's snap election, and said he would run for prime minister and resign only after winning the polls. The Constitutional Court said at the time he must resign first.

Croatia has a parliamentary democracy in which the prime minister and his cabinet set all major policies. The president is empowered to nominate the prime minister based on election results, can dissolve parliament and acts as armed forces chief with some say in foreign policy.

Final results in the election are not expected until next week because a re-run is needed in two polling stations after irregularities were recorded.