Unlike in most “Western” parliaments, Croatian parliament has no officially elected position/role of Leader of the Opposition; in Croatia the title Leader of the Opposition is unofficially attached to the Leader of the political party holding most seats on opposition benches. Yet, much of the Croatian public and media act towards Tomislav Karamarko (President of the largest political party in parliamentary opposition, Croatian Democratic Union/HDZ), as though he occupies an officially elected Leader of the Opposition role and treat his strengths or weaknesses through that prism, which in fact does not exist as a formal and binding role such as the one of the Prime Minister, for example. Croatian Parliament has a number of political parties sitting on opposition benches (Labour Party, HDSSB, Croatian Party of Rights dr. Ante Starcevic etc.), leaders of which are also afforded public and media regard as being in opposition.
Tomislav Karamarko, although not officially the Leader of the Opposition in the Parliament of Croatia cops criticisms left, right and centre and is expected to “save” the economic and political disaster that has peaked in Croatia during the past year – singlehandedly!
One wonders whether these criticisms are truly for the benefit of the overall good for the country or whether they are political manipulations rooted in the Cock-a-doodle-doo coalition government, which benefits politically from criticisms of a party in opposition in that its own disastrous shortcomings and incompetence blur-up or even get to “look good” at times.
Any political party, which has suffered major electoral losses (such as HDZ did at the last general elections), has an absolute right to regroup and revitalise itself. After all, that’s what we see happening in every democratic country after general elections. Nothing wrong in that, in fact, that is how democracy works (and should work) because every regrouping and every revitalisation of a political party happens in pursuits of winning government at future elections.
The Opposition’s main role is to question the government of the day and hold them accountable. In Croatia this gets complicated by the fact that any leaders of any of the several political parties in opposition can put on a hat of “opposition leader”, on any day, on any issue and in that sea of different “opposition hats” the public is served with a fertile ground for opposing discourse and lack of firm alternative direction. Another role of parliamentary opposition is to utilise the sittings of the parliament as opportunities for scrutinising the policies and administration of the government. This happens in the Croatian parliament, however with no clear and official “government in opposition” sitting on those benches – many sessions end up as multi-edged swords where all that can be heard are rows between individuals that lead to little, if any, changes or constructive debates.
A couple of days ago I came across an article in Vecernji List, written by journalist Zvonimir Despot, which evidences the fact that there is quite significant misunderstanding in Croatia as to what Tomislav Karamarko as leader of Croatian Democratic Union – in the current political and economic circumstances – should or should not do. Apparent misunderstanding of the structure of Croatian parliament and its roles here is not the problem, for people can learn, but when such misunderstanding targets a politician to create the belief and false perception that such a politician is not doing his job (as Leader of Opposition, which does not exist) for the country, then one simply must respond – without bias, without preferences, with pure reality in mind.
Despot writes: “When the government in power is incompetent, when there is no way out of crisis, when it delivers catastrophic decisions, day in and day out, and churns out even more comical statements, then it is logical that a great deal is expected from the opposition. That it be active when it’s not in government, and that it prepares the path for its coming to power, but that it also offers a new program, new people, new freshness, new face of Croatia, an alternative to the voters, and to only distribute armchairs and the same used party machines, let alone imposers”.
While Despot’s writing about what opposition should do falls in line with what opposition does in parliamentary democracies, where lines between government and opposition are officially defined, his attack against Karamarko in the article, to my view, is completely out of order, especially if we appraise the big picture of the Croatian parliamentary structure and official roles. In criticising the opposition, Despot should have also referred to all the other leaders of all the other parliamentary parties in opposition. Karamarko does not have the official mandate to take upon his back the work opposition as a whole should be doing; he is one among several “opposition leaders”, so why single him out? Because he leads the largest number of chairs on opposition benches!? Not justified, in my book.
What Despot could have done, to further democracy in Croatia, is seek that Croatian Parliament actually elects a Leader of the Opposition – and if Constitution does not allow that, then seek legislative changes – who could then take on the role Despot is talking about with accountability and mandate.
In the situation as is – with several political parties claiming and practicing the opposition stake – it is indeed most prudent of the Croatian Democratic Union not to offer its program to the public just yet. Parties in opposition simply do not divulge their secrets, their whole programs too far in advance of parliamentary elections and, hence, protect their right to present their programs to the public when the time for that is right. Otherwise, divulging their programs and plans too far ahead of elections runs the risk of the incompetent government attempting to benefit by plucking out parts of opposition’s programs and developing them as their own.
People in Croatia, it seems, are most disappointed in current government’s performance but it is not the job of the Croatian Democratic Union to stop the government from drowning in its own incompetency. The job of any political party in opposition is to let the incompetent party in government drown – lose at next elections.
The job of the Croatian Democratic Union, and the job of any political party in opposition is to demonstrate, during the campaigns leading to election day that they can be a better government than the incumbent. It’s too early for HDZ or any political party in Croatia, in opposition, to start their election campaign so far away from election date.
Furthermore, Despot seems to interpret unity, or attempts to achieve unity within HDZ as fostering a “personality cult”, spreading negative connotations against the party. He says: “ … in that party, nurturing of personality cult continues. Whether Karamarko sees that, or not, whether he knows that, or not, whether he likes or dislikes it, whatever, the personality cult is once again in action. How? Well, because HDZ is still steered by practicing all for one, one for all, which is really the usual interparty democratic method”.
I have yet to see a successful political party operate in disunity and without a strong, distinct leader. To my experience of democratic elections there has never been a party elected into government, which presented itself as disunited and without strong leadership figures presented to the public. While Despot attempts to compare such a scenario of rule by “personality cult” with the cult of Josip Broz Tito, of communist Yugoslavia, one cannot but disagree with this parallel. There were no multiparty democratic elections under Tito and no different personalities among which the public could choose its future leader of government. Furthermore, Despot offers the public a kind of a “sob story” for the embattled ex-Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor, whose membership in HDZ apparently hangs in the balance after she had spoken against her own political party (HDZ) in public recently. Reacting to Karamarko’s reprimanding reactions to this, Despot holds that Kosor should be afforded respect regardless of what or how she is!
Politics and governments are all about leadership. If there is no leadership, there is no guidance and, eventually, no real progress. Why someone would compare the building of today’s HDZ leadership to Tito’s way of governing through his personality cult is beyond me! It is unfair because the modern workings of competing political parties within the milieu of democracy actually require personal and party competitiveness that leads to competition as to who can better deliver for the good of the people, of the nation – if elected into government. Karamarko has inherited a political party in shambles (HDZ) and it stands to reason that much work needs to be done to revitalise it and to regroup it, if it wants to run for government at the next elections. However, to label any regrouping or revitalisation measures in HDZ from spectators’ stand (by journalists or member of public…) as following “personality cult” practices is just plain unfair and, most likely far from the truth. It would be much more productive for Croatia if the media were to worry about educating the public about how its hard won democracy should work in their daily lives, rather than misguiding it by allowing it to think that it has only one party in parliamentary opposition role and that one party may not have the right and the freedom to organise itself as it sees fit. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A.,M.A.Ps. (Syd)