2015 will most likely see the seventh parliamentary elections since the parliament was inaugurated in May 1990. If it doesn’t, then the beginning of 2016 will. In an analogy with a relationship between a man and a woman, if I think of each parliamentary mandate as representing one year in the relationship between the people and the government then, as far as general elections are concerned in Croatia, we are in the year of the so-called “seven year itch”. That’s a time known as a time of potential crisis when one is said to traditionally take stock of one’s relationship and decides whether it’s what one really wants or not.
What has this got to do with Croatian elections, you might ask? Well – everything, I think.
Croatian electorate is split and voter crisis is looming. Time is likely to arrive when some (perhaps a significant number in election results term) traditionally left-voters will turn right and vice versa.
The left oriented Social Democrats that lead the current government and the right oriented Croatian Democratic Union that leads the opposition, with their coalition partner parties, are splitting the electorate virtually into two equal halves. Leaders of both – Zoran Milanovic/Social Democrats and Timislav Karamarko/Croatian Democratic Union – have come out equally as “the most negative” politicians in some opinion polls over the past several months. Both sides of politics attract demons from their governing past blamed for the critical state of the economy and the increasing poverty.
It would seem that the Social Democrats have recognised the looming election results crisis where results between two leading parties will be so close that even a handful of single votes (swinging votes) will make the difference between loss and victory and are set to tip their sights onto the conservative side of political orientation in order to attempt winning over some of the traditionally conservative voters. On Saturday, 8 August 2015, Social Democrats with their leader Zoran Milanovic have announced and indicated to their intention of forming a coalition or starting some form of (electoral) cooperation with the Authentic Croatian Peasant Party – a socially conservative party that bases its foundations on the work of Croatia’s great leader Stjepan Radic (shot in 1928 in parliament in Serbia by Serb nationalist as representative of Croatia and died from the wounds days later).
While the reaction from the Authentic Croatian Peasant Party to this Social Democrat idea has so far been one of irony – such as its president Branko Hrg saying “the way he has started, Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic might become a member of some right-wing option…if the hunt for small political parties is so great then there must be panic within the governing coalition…” – one cannot discount as electorally insignificant the Social Democrat government minister and Deputy Prime Minister laying a wreath on Friday, with much media pomp and ceremony – at Stjepan Radic’s tomb for the 87th anniversary of his death.
Tomislav Karamarko, leader of Croatian Democratic Union, has commented on this Social Democrats’ stepping into the traditionally conservative, right-winged political terrain, as “an expression of nervousness and insecurities of HDZ’s and its coalitions’ political opponents…”.
Indeed that may be so, SDP may be nervous, but judging by the palpable polarisation within the Croatian electorate (50-50 almost) between left and right, it stands to reason that in order to win at the next elections a political party vying for office must consider more aggressively the issues that affect the entire electorate rather than predominantly those that affect the part of the electorate sympathetic to it! And that may well be what the Social Democrats are doing: getting closer to the other side (?). If that is so and if they are “nervous and insecure” then their moves towards the conservative terrain could in fact be seen by some as “fight” not “flight”. If they succeed in getting even a minor party from the conservative side into their coalition then Social Democrats may be perceived in a positive light as “fighters” to stay in power. This positive light may translate into positive votes.
The job for Croatian Democratic Union will then be to demonstrate to the electorate how “a wolf (Social Democrats) loses its fur but never its habits”! How superficial and insincere any coalition of former/current Yugoslav communists is with any political party whose history rests on relentless rejection of any form of domination within any form of Yugoslavia (of Serb-monarchy or Yugoslav communist).
Many will say that voters fail to vote because they are not well enough informed or concerned and major party may count on that so that party-loyal voter-recruitment becomes optimally effective upon the final election result.
In a democracy, responsible voters, however, evaluate what has been done or what has happened in the past four years and make judgments. And I would like to think that the democracy in Croatia has reached such an advanced stage where the voters are concerned with results (of government work) only, not with policy promises. Human beings simply find it easier to look at what has gone on in the past to see what may happen in the future.
“A rational voter only needs to know ‘if the shoe is pinching’; and, if so, who is causing it to pinch,” said once the reputable American political scientist Valdimer O. Key.
Social Democrats in Croatia are only too aware that they are the ones whose government is causing “the shoe to pinch”. Unemployment is horrendous, young people leaving Croatia in search for jobs in record and alarming numbers; investment climate hopeless due to rigid red tape and bureaucracy; homelessness and poverty on the rise to distressing levels…politically divided population where anger and discontent against those underplaying Croatian interests in the face of communist-Yugoslavia-nostalgia is often the issue causing unrest. Perceived inadequacy in political leaders to defend the Croatian truth and Croatia’s suffering at the hands of Serb aggressor in the 1990’s still occupies much of the circumstances that will surround and populate the coming election climate. Social Democrats’ attempts to encroach through various forms of coalition or cooperation upon the politically conservative territory is not to be taken lightly, or dismissed as some kind of a political whim without possible consequence. Such attempts do have the potential of causing voters to swing even if only because of some minor gesture from a politician that may touch their “voting” heart – swinging voters or those susceptible to opinion change are the fodder for political scavengers.
Certainly, with the electorate split almost in equal halves between Croatian Democratic Union/HDZ and Social Democrat support (and this was clearly demonstrated at the presidential elections in January 2015 when victory came at a rather nail-bitingly narrow margin), assuming the same number of voter turnout, swinging voters or those who can be convinced to vote differently will rein in the next government of Croatia. The swinging voter will be moved to vote by how he/she thinks a political ideology (election program) will affect him/her and his/her family. Ideology is of little consequence to a swinging voter and these are increasingly growing in number as Croatia progresses deeper into democratic reality. The times have come when elections are about real values that translate into real lives, better living standards. Much work for election success still lies ahead for political parties in Croatia. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)