Croatia’s top court rules that the president can’t run in the parliamentary election unless he quits

FILE - Croatia's President Zoran Milanovic attends a news conference with German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier during a meeting at the Bellevue Palace in Berlin, Germany, on Sept. 11, 2020. Milanovic cannot run for prime minister nor take part in the upcoming parliamentary election nor campaign in favor of an opposition party unless he resigns immediately from the current post, the state’s constitutional court ruled Monday, March 18, 2024. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber, File)

FILE – Croatia’s President Zoran Milanovic attends a news conference with German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier during a meeting at the Bellevue Palace in Berlin, Germany, on Sept. 11, 2020. Milanovic cannot run for prime minister nor take part in the upcoming parliamentary election nor campaign in favor of an opposition party unless he resigns immediately from the current post, the state’s constitutional court ruled Monday, March 18, 2024. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber, File)

ZAGREB, Croatia (AP) — Croatian’s president can’t run for prime minister, take part in the upcoming parliamentary election or campaign in favor of an opposition party, unless he resigns immediately from his current post, according to a ruling on Monday from the country’s top court.

President Zoran Milanović blasted the Constitutional Court decision, saying: “They did it in a gangster way.”

“I will eventually be prime minister, but I won’t tell that gang how,” he told reporters.

Milanović on Friday called a parliamentary election for April 17, but hours later announced that he would run for Croatia’s next prime minister on the list of the opposition Social Democratic Party.

The surprise announcement has triggered a deep political crisis in the European Union and NATO-member country, with the state’s constitutional court called in to give its opinion on Milanović’s move to run in the parliamentary election.

“If he (president) wants to take part in a political campaign … he must submit his resignation immediately to the president of the Constitutional Court,” presiding judge Miroslav Separovic said at a news conference.

“The president and the SDP party are obliged to act in accordance with this warning and stop violating the constitution,” he said, adding that the president is a nonpartisan figure, according to the constitution, and as such Milanović isn’t allowed to take part in an election or campaign in favor of one political party.

The ballot next month will pit the ruling conservative Croatian Democratic Union against the SDP-led group of centrist and left-leaning parties, which have announced that they will run as an alliance.

After announcing his bid to become Croatia’s new prime minister, Milanović immediately started an election campaign on behalf of the SDP. But constitutional court judges ruled on Monday that the move was unconstitutional.

Milanović intended to challenge the current conservative prime minister, Andrej Plenković, and his ruling Croatian Democratic Union, known by its Croatian initials as the HDZ, which he has accused of rampant corruption. The two have been involved in continuous bickering over a number of issues.

The HDZ has largely held power since Croatia gained independence from the former Yugoslavia in 1991.

The Adriatic Sea nation became the newest member of the European Union in 2013, and joined Europe’s passport-free travel area and the eurozone last year.

Croatia is also slated to hold a presidential election by the end of the year. The president holds a largely ceremonial role, while the prime minister exerts most of the political power in the country.

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