Big day for Croatia – Sunday 8 November 2015; Croatia votes for new parliament – new government.
For Croats living abroad voting commenced on 7 November so they get the whole weekend to make it to the polling booths, which are restricted to consular or diplomatic premises, which more often than not have rather small waiting rooms and no easily accessible public toilet facilities on offer. Hence if one happens to live in the US or Australia one would in many cases need to take hours long plane ride to reach a polling booth, in Germany, Switzerland, France, UK, Canada, New Zealand Argentina etc. – few hours train or car ride … only very few are located within a reasonable distance from a Croatian consulate or diplomatic mission.
Some years ago, the leftists (former Communists, Social Democrats) brought in the rule that polling booths outside Croatia must be on consular/diplomatic mission premises and nowhere else. Prior to that, polling booths used to be located on Croatian clubs’ premises and given that there were quite a few around more people could access their voting right although for many this was still prohibited due to distance and/or cost of travel. Also, same day registration to vote was available. Postal and electronic voting was never introduced under any government – conservative or liberal – even if the diaspora has been asking for it consistently.
Then there is the new – preferential – voting system introduced this year for the first time in Croatia, which of course requires a great deal of public/voter education but when it comes to diaspora the wings of education were severely clipped or even pulled out.
The principal right of citizens in a democratic society is their ability to vote, and when partisan politics inhibit citizens’ ability to utilize this tool, there is a fundamental problem. Without the average person in a large voter body such as the diaspora is being able to easily vote, Croatia is no longer is a representative democracy.
So here are some of the main ways Croatian leftist government has made it harder to vote for Croats living abroad, who have a legal right to vote in elections:
1. Voting to occur only on Croatian consular or diplomatic missions’ premises thereby, guaranteeing that most will never vote as the distance to travel to a polling booth is prohibitive either time or cost wise for most;
2. A person must register to vote well in advance of polling day (about 10 days) and information regarding the requirement to register is not easily available to most, especially not to the ones who do not read the Croatian press or listen to Croatian radio available in the countries they live in (and there are many of those) – one has yet to come across a mainstream media outlet in a “Western” country, say, where the Croatian government has taken out some advertisement space within which it informs its prospective voters of the requirements etc. – many, therefore, do not end up voting because they did not know of the requirement for prior registration. Same day registration has been pulled away by the Social Democrats led government and these developments indicate that political party ideologies have permeated and stained the electoral system, leaving voters confused (it needs to be said here that traditionally the election results from the Croatian diaspora have favoured the Conservative or right side of political walkway and the leftists have stuck to making it hard to vote if living abroad);
3. Requiring a state-issued photo ID to cast a ballot. It seems in most places not only a Croatian photo ID was required but also of the state living in, e.g. Driver’s Licence or Passport! Many, especially pensioners, may not posses a photo ID from either country or one of them, which usually puts people off. While voter impersonation fraud may have been concerning in Croatia in previous elections it is most rare or non-existent in the diaspora.
4. The traditional practice of Croatian emigrants being considered on temporary work abroad and being able to retain their name on the local residential register – where they often possess property – has been scrapped by Social Democrat led government and, hence, all those living abroad for more than 12 months had to de-register their residence in Croatia or were struck off from the register by the authorities, which placed them automatically into the so-called “Electorate 11”/ Diaspora electorate which has only 3 seats in parliament even if there are almost as many Croats living abroad as living in Croatia. In the previous system with residence registered in Croatia they could have voted for the Electorate their Croatian home is in and within which they may be paying taxes etc. The leftist government has in this way also significantly reduced on local Electorate level the number of voters who are likely to vote Conservative (as it’s known that those living abroad usually vote Conservative);
5. The introduction of preferential voting system without adequate and equal opportunity public education and without “How to Vote” cards being available to voters at polling booths the Social Democrat government has pursued the avenue of confusion among voters. One could easily see through numerous media write ups and presentations across Croatia media skies that voters across the country are confused about the recent changes to the voting system, and this may certainly lead to many people being turned away at the polls both in Croatia and abroad, or not even attempting to vote due to frustration with lack of clear information. Further impacts of this appalling situation remain to be seen, but one thing is certain: this election season certainly will be an interesting one that raises many ethical and moral questions about the Croatian Republic.
It is widely accepted that the race consisting of two major competing camps for government (Social Democrat led coalition and Croatian Democratic Union led coalition) is highly capable of yielding results of a minority government and subsequent deals with minor parties or independents who may win seats. But by restricting polling booths to consular premises that are far and few in between, by doing away with same day registration, restricting voter identification to photo ID from two countries if abroad, by restricting information of how to vote to brief moments of explanation by individual staff at polling booths on the day – which carried a sizable possibility of error -, and by striking people off local residential registers the leftist politicians have hurt citizens, particularly the diaspora which is often treated as a minority group even if it has almost as many voters as those living in Croatia. To make one living in the diaspora angrier at such politics one only needs to remember that Croatian governments of all political persuasions do and have invested quite a bit of effort seeking from the diaspora to invest in Croatian economy – how can such invitations and calls bear the desired fruit if the same government makes the voting from diaspora so hard; we must remember that it’s the results of our voting that defines how the laws will be made and how they will stack up against the successful prospects of investment projects. Social Democrats’ partisanship has severely obstructed the right of diaspora to vote and I do look forward to a future when such obstructions will be removed and investors of Croatian descent be afforded easy access to voting in order to contribute a healthier investment climate in Croatia into which they could pour funds with greater ease. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A.; M.A.Ps. (Syd)