By Igor Ilic
ZAGREB (Reuters) - Croatia's parliament began debating a no-confidence motion against the finance minister on Wednesday that could force a snap election.
The vote will test parliamentary support for Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic who needs to rebuild a majority after the junior party in his center-right coalition quit when he sacked its ministers for supporting the no-confidence motion.
If the vote on Thursday goes against Finance Minister Zdravko Maric, who is accused of conflicts of interest, it would indicate parliament is unlikely to endorse new ministers that Plenkovic needs to appoint - making a snap election likely.
The former junior coalition partner Most ("Bridge") party backs the motion against Finance Minister Zdravko Maric because of a financial crisis at Croatia's biggest private firm, Agrokor [AGROK.UL], where Maric was a senior executive until early 2016.
"I reject all the allegations against me about conflict of interest as unfounded as I have worked as a minister only in the public interest," Maric, who cut Croatia's budget gap last year to 0.8 percent of GDP from more than 3 percent, told parliament.
Analysts say the opposition will struggle to gather the 76 votes needed in the 151-seat parliament to remove Maric.
"I don't think Maric will be removed, and, after that, Plenkovic would have around a month to secure a majority for new ministers to replace those from the Most party," analyst Davor Gjenero said.
If the no-confidence motion passes, said analyst Ivan Rimac: "Plenkovic will have to decide whether to propose new ministers to replace Maric and those from Most or opt for new polls if not confident about sufficient support."
A previous coalition of Plenkovic's HDZ and Most collapsed last June after just six months, leading to a snap election in September.
Analysts believe renewed tensions between the two parties stems largely from competition for votes ahead of municipal elections on May 21 and June 4.
(Editing by Robin Pomeroy)