Croatia taps pharma exec lead government, heal economy

Thursday, Dec 24, 2015

Croatia's president tasked Wednesday a pharmaceutical executive to form a new government and end the political standoff that has plagued the Balkan EU nation since inconclusive elections last month.

"Tihomir Oreskovic proved to me that he enjoys the support of (a majority of) 78 MPs ... and I task him ... to form a new government," President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic said at a brief ceremony.

Oreskovic, a senior financial manager for global generic medicine giant Teva, was put forward earlier Wednesday as a non-partisan candidate for premier by two conservative parties that had only the previous day cobbled together a majority of deputies in the 151-seat parliament.

Oreskovic, who graduated with a degree in chemistry and an MBA from Canadian universities, pledged to invest all his "knowledge and efforts to form a high-calibre government and start resolving the accumulated problems."

Top among them will be the economy, which is only slowly emerging from six years of recession.

"I urge the parliamentary majority and opposition to support me in that," added the 49-year-old.

Zagreb-born Oreskovic is the former chief executive officer of Croatia's largest pharmaceutical company PLIVA, which became a unit of global generics giant Teva Group.

But the long years he spent abroad studying and working has left his Croatian rusty and accented, which immediately sparked comments on social networks.

The appointment of a political outsider as prime minister helped the conservative main HDZ party and the newcomer Most agree to form a coalition, six weeks after the November 8 election that failed to produce an outright winner.

If confirmed by the parliament, Oreskovic would be Croatia's first prime minister not to hail from one of its two main political power bases -- the HDZ and the centre-left Social Democrats.

The two have alternated in power since the former Yugoslav republic proclaimed independence in 1991.

The incumbent Social Democrats and the HDZ struggled to find coalition partners, with reforms needed to spur Croatia's economy and and how to handle the unprecedented influx of refugees on their way to northern Europe the main subject of negotiations.

The small nation with the population of 4.2 million joined the EU in 2013, and remains one of the bloc's poorest-performing economies.

Heavily dependent on tourism to the country's stunning Adriatic coast, Croatia's economy is expected to expand by 1.7 percent this year after half a decade of recession and stagnation that has left nearly one in six people unemployed.

Oreskovic has 30 days to secure support for his cabinet. If he does not succeed the president may give him another 30 days and if he fails again another candidate can be named.

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