Croatia: Speakeasy Lingers At Local Government Elections

According to the Croatian Electoral Office 46.96% of eligible voters in Croatia turned up to vote at the Local government elections Sunday 19 May. One may well conclude that, although not as high as the 54.32% turnout at December 2011 parliamentary elections, such a turnout is pretty solid, but not as solid as one would want. The below 50% turnout could well signify that majority of voters still either “don’t care” or continue ruminating within a kind of a speakeasy that has nestled among their thoughts, having yet to muster enough courage to vote in line with their preferences – which most likely have a great deal to do with their disillusionment with the major political parties on offer. The freedom of expressing ones thoughts (through votes, for example) has evidently not yet fully left the oppressive filters of the former totalitarian communist system of former Yugoslavia even though Croatia has been out of it for over two decades. Old habits die hard, and there just has not been enough effort placed into public education on citizens’ rights and responsibilities in a democracy in Croatia. So voters either don’t care or are afraid to vote, and I think it’s more the latter than the former because in the staunched environment of overwhelming political elitism, as is Croatia, voting for something new automatically carries with it a good dose of fear of the unknown.

I say the above having in mind that low voter turnout is not unusual in countries of well established democracies and that Croatians should be exempt from being compared to such occurrences, which are often commented upon as “just one of those things that are normal in democracy”. Why, you may ask? Because 94% voted in the 1991 elections (to secede from communist Yugoslavia) and this fact suggests that Croats want and can activate themselves to vote. So, in a relatively young democracy, which has emerged from a totalitarian system, one expects that people would want to participate in elections on a large scale in order to shape the future they want.

So, something is brewing at grassroots level! And it doesn’t appear to favour the major political parties.

The Prohibition era in the United States of America (1920’s into 1930’s) saw a prominence of speakeasy establishments about which one only spoke very quietly, if at all, in public. The significant voter abstinence at elections in Croatia is often commented by phrases such as: “They’re all the same”, “Same people, different cloaks”, “What’s the use, they’re all corrupt”, “They haven’t got a clue”, “If I knew for sure they’ll secure a job for my children, I’d vote for them”… All those who do not vote have formed their opinion as to how things should be in Croatia politically, but evidently have little courage to speak out en masse or make changes through action.  And so, mental speakeasies linger on.

In Sunday’s Local government elections an overwhelming number of candidates failed to win 50% or more votes. This means that second round of elections will occur in two of weeks (2 June). Second round elections involve voting for two top scoring candidates from the first round and the one who gets the higher number of votes in the second round is the winner.

Therefore, those who are not locked inside a mental speakeasy and came out to vote on Sunday demonstrate a noticeable departure from supporting the Social Democrats/SDP (main party in government) and the Croatian Democratic Union/HDZ (largest party in opposition) is regaining its ground at the grassroots, local level.

HDZ is particularly delighted with the fact that it won in major or larger Croatian cities such as Zadar, Sibenik, Velika Gorica, Bjelovar, Sisak – in the 2009 local elections HDZ’s defeat was huge, almost debilitating.  Most of the votes counted yeasterday and today show that HDZ candidates and/or partners have won first round of elections in the larger cities of Gospic, Zadar, Sibenik, Karlovac, Sisak, Velika Gorica, Krapina, Bjelovar, Virovitica. SDP and its partners have won in Rijeka, Split, Cakovec, Koprivnica,Vukovar, Varazdin, Pozega. HNS and its partners without SDP won Bjelovar, Dubrovnik and Pazin. IDS without coalition won Pula and HDSSB won Osijek. Victory for the capital of Zagreb went to current Mayor Milan Bandic (independent) and Slavonski Brod went to the independent Mirko Duspara.

HDZ believes that it will gain more victorious ground in the second round of elections, particularly Split and Vukovar where the difference in votes between HDZ second place and SDP first place is very narrow.

Certainly, what these Local elections show is that there is a shift away from the governing coalition parties and a significant voter swing towards HDZ and/or its partners. Results in larger cities and towns usually reflect the mood of those that voted.

The electoral gains by HDZ can to a great extent be attributed to a greater public confidence in that party, which many attribute to the purges and changes the party has been undergoing since its disastrous loss at 2011 general elections and since Tomislav Karamarko took leadership.

According to Tomislav Klauski, journalist of 24sata, Zoran Milanovic, Prime Minister and leader of SDP, has vowed to relinquish responsibility for the SDP electoral defeats, threatens with membership purges, disbandment of leadership in local disobedient SDP branches, announces the introduction of loyalty as criteria of survival, expects gratitude from his vassals … Well, well not even Tomislav Karamarko went that far (at least publicly) when he set about reviving and changing HDZ.

What this SDP brandishing of swords resembles is, actually, the mindset of a totalitarian, dictatorial system not far removed from the communist one Croatia thought it had left behind a few years ago.

It’s a real pity more voters didn’t cast their say at Local elections – there was certainly quite a varied selection of candidates/parties on offer, which did not fit the political elite, major party mold. Certainly, taking a chance with the new and untested seems like a great opportunity to bring about the change most of the non-voters seems to be hankering for or pondering upon. One simply cannot avoid the feeling that if recycling of the same parties with more or less same people at the helm continues, and low voter turnout persists, not much will change for Croatia except, perhaps, more loud street rallies full of demands that have no action plans. And so the body of the majority of eligible voters that do not vote becomes and is a toothless tiger that political elite recognises only too well. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)


  1. It is enlightening to see the difference between this election in Varazdin and its predecessor 4 years ago. Then, HDZ/HSLS held all the major positions and their pre-election advertising and PR dominated everyone else’s efforts. HNS/SDP could muster only a few mail drops and the odd Saturday morning kiosk in the market place. Now, with roles reversed, it is HDZ who cannot afford to sell themselves above the level of a few A3 posters in the odd shop window whilst SDP/HNS have massive billboards, TV programs, monthly glossy magazines (masquerading as “city update” etc) all topped off with a giant marquee with free food and entertainment for all comers.
    We all know from where each side got the money don’t we? Strange that all that expense can only be found when in possession of the city and county budgets whilst the opposition are suddenly broke.
    This is democracy, Croatian style. It’s hard to be optimistic.

  2. Hrvatska je s pinkalom u ruci bez prevelike halabuke pokazala kako diše. Građani nisu nasjeli na pokušaj da se stigmaziraju svi koji vole ovu zemlju vraćajući ih u povijest već prevladanom politikom podjela hrvatskog društva.

    • Translation of comment by CROATIAN CENTER of RENEWABLE ENERGY SOURCES: Without too much splutter Croatia has, with a pen in its hand, shown how it breathes. The citizens have not fallen for the attempts to stigmatise all who love this country by trying to take them back to the history when division of Croatian society politics prevailed.

    • Croatian Centre of Renewable Energy Sources – you are right – Croatia has shown once again what it’s made of. We need renewed energy transplanted into the 53% that did not vote to organize new groups, new parties, new sources of affirming truly that for which we fought and lost lives: true democracy and good livelihoods.

  3. Miso Sorbel says:

    Again, we are faced with the victory of some hopeless coalitions that are all full of crap and lack principles of keeping promises and truly cleaning up the thugs and thieves from their midst. We are faced with that because of the 53% who did not vote – I am angry with those lazy people. I am angry at the lack of “go and get the main parties out of power”.

  4. Robert H says:

    The circus gets better – it looks as if Social Democrats will no longer be able to ridicule and make an ass of Bandic in the City of Zagreb Council without a coalition with Croatian Democratic Union. Oh please, don’t say: nothing is impossible. Shock, horror at what political elite will do to stay in power. Life can be very cruel

  5. Franjo Tudjman foresaw everything so brilliantly and realized what he foresaw, only he wasn’t aware enough that the political elite that would come after him, including those in his very Democratic Union, would support a prison for real Croats who have ever since 1918 spilled rivers of innocent Croatian blood and covered the whole Croatian ground with Croatian bones. The swing towards Croatian Democratic Union is not a swing away from the reds because Croatian Democratic Union is full of reds that count of the votes of those that voted for the reds last time and who might change their votes in the second round. They too have failed miserably at building trust among the majority who do not come out to vote.

  6. When a party with a clear vision, long-term plan that’s realistic and with pro-Croatian orientation appears … all these creatures you call political elites will get swept away with a blink of an eye. That day will come, that day must come!

    These creatures of today, the main parties simply do not have what it takes to capture the truly majority vote – they are all saying they are pro-Croatian, for Croatian interests and such but when it comes to the plight of the ordinary people, to the everyday lives of the people they have no sensitivity, no understanding, no respect. What can I say: when such a party or parties appear then the voter turnout will swell like a tsunami.

  7. Swing away from Social Democrats and governing partners does not surprise. They have gone out of their way to quarrel with the nation, with the people that brought them into power in the first place; they do not know of listening to the people; they’ve destroyed in two years even the little hope Croatia had after the also hopeless HDZ rule of a recovery in economy. HDZ perhaps thinks that it will capitalize on this, that people have short memories and at elections remember only the last government…etc. Ah no, people have long memories; people have children who must have a future and neither HDZ nor SDP seem to be capable of delivering on that.

  8. Jessamy I says:

    This is getting better and better: we are closer to the day when masses will vote at elections because it seems more and more are saying: we must vote, if we don’t we have no right complaining when things go pear shaped…

  9. It’s terrible how it seems that we are destined to pine for what we really want from election to election … all we get is the same pro-communist lot whether they are from SDP or HDZ … is this the result of political unintelligence of those who opt not to get out and vote? Probably and most likely. The recycling of worn out reds industry is shattering. We can do better, must do better – next time!?

  10. Valter Mrki says:

    Congratulations to Croatian Democratic Union, they have a good new start, now let them show us what they can really do. Otherwise this win could wipe them out completely at next general elections together with Social Democrats. Enough is enough.

  11. Wolfgang Meier says:

    Well put Ina. Succinct to the point. The courage all humans should exercise in democracy has suffered grave suffocation during communist oppression and single party system. It takes time to unleash it and I agree with multitudes that Croats are a clever and decent people, we have proven that over and over again despite horrific historical odds. Time is coming when Croatian political scene will grow heroes of our near future, heroes that will stand by their people no matter what. These nuts are mainly remnants of Yugoslavia that have not changed much since those times and individuals that have lots to offer find it hard to get through the thicket political elites have created. As all things come to an end so will their reign, but let’s hope it won’t be too long for waiting.

  12. MarijanNYC says:

    Here is what I would like to add, those 53.04% who did not vote lost all their right to complain and bitch what’s happening in Croatia. Knowing our people, that probably wont happen and they will be the loudest.


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