ZAGREB, Croatia (AP) — Croatia's parliament voted overwhelmingly Thursday to oust Prime Minister Tihomir Oreskovic, triggering the fall of the government and raising the prospect of an early election in the European Union's newest member state.
The vote in the 151-seat assembly was 125 for the ouster, 15 against and two abstentions.
Croatia, which joined the EU in 2013, will now face months of uncertainty and political bickering despite an urgent need to reconstruct its ailing economy.
Oreskovic, a Canada-educated financial expert who speaks Croatian with a heavy English accent, said he was "sorry" he was ousted only five months after taking office. He said he will serve as acting prime minister until a new government is elected.
"I came in with the best intentions to help my homeland," he said, adding he didn't expect his mandate to end the way it did. "Who would have expected this? I have global experience."
"I am a little sad because I think we could have achieved more," he added.
Parliament acted on the motion filed by the conservative Croatian Democratic Union, the senior party in the ruling "Patriotic Coalition." The conservatives have said Oreskovic proved incapable of leading the country amid deep economic and social problems.
The Croatian Democratic Union, known as HDZ, which led the ruling coalition, wants to reshuffle the government with a new premier. The left-wing opposition has called for early elections as the way out of the crisis and announced collecting enough votes in the parliament to dissolve it.
Lawmakers will now have 30 days to form a new government or face a snap election.
HDZ has been locked in a dispute with its main coalition partner, the Most party, which had backed Oreskovic, seeking an expert as prime minister and not a party political figure. Until recently Oreskovic led the large global pharmaceutical company Teva.
The Most party lawmakers said that after Oreskovic's ouster, they will support the opposition bid to dissolve Parliament and force early elections. Party official Miro Bulj said "we are going to elections, submitting signatures is a technical matter."
Oreskovic, with no party affiliation, lost the support of the ruling conservatives after he clashed with their leader, Tomislav Karamarko, who has been accused of conflict of interest due to his links with a lobbyist for Hungary's state oil company MOL, which has been in conflict with the Croatian government.
Karamarko on Wednesday stepped down from his deputy prime minister post, pledging to oust Oreskovic and collect enough votes in the parliament to form another government with a new premier.
Oreskovic told the parliament on Thursday that the real reason for his ouster was that he started resolving the dispute over managing rights in the joint company between the Croatian INA and MOL.
"Someone did not like that," Oreskovic said, referring to Karamarko.