Around 61.12 percent of 3.8 million eligible voters cast their ballots in Sunday 8 November general election in Croatia.
As I thought in one of my recent articles, neither of the two “big” political camps in Croatia (which divide Croatia into communist nostalgics/centre-left and independent Croatia loving cenre-right) won enough parliamentary seats to form a government outright- in the 151 seat parliament 76 are needed to form a majority government. In fact, the difference in results is almost insignificant leaving Croatia politically and ideologically divided (between centre-left and centre-right) to the point where economic progress and optimal politico-moral harmony are becoming more and more a feat impossible to achieve in one lifetime, at least.
The conservative Croatian Democratic Union/HDZ led coalition won 56 seats from within Croatia plus 3 allocated for the diaspora or voters living abroad (59 total) and the centre-left Social Democrats/SDP led coalition won 56 seats, but if one pinned the natural alliance to them from the Istrian Democratic Party (IDS), that won 3 seats just like the diaspora, then these two camps are equal even if HDZ is the relative winner. They are equally unable to form a government outright. They are equal in their desire to form an alliance with a group of independents that campaigned under the name “Bridge” (Most), which, by the way, based their election campaign on asserting they were “neither HDZ nor Social Democrats”, campaigned against the inefficient Social Democrat government…and achieved an amazing 19 seats in parliament evidently on the strength of asserting they were something entirely different to the two main political parties and that they would not be entering into a coalition with either! Many a prominent or formerly prominent political figures fell off the political race wagon – most embarrassingly for their results were pathetically against them. Some of these losers are the former President of Croatia Ivo Josipovic, the former Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor, the former finance minister Slavko Linic, the former Environment minister Mirela Holy…
Leaders of political parties, journalists, political analysts… in Croatia look baffled, seem surprised, taken aback in a shock, shaking their heads in confusion – saying no one predicted such an election outcome and no one predicted the “Bridge” group could rise to such an important place as to be in the position that could be deciding who will govern Croatia and who won’t for the coming four years. It is clear to me that these people are not used to the situation where, after elections, forming government is not straightforward but requires minority government picking up various choices and combinations of governing models that could lead to forming a government.
It’s clear to me that the two main political camps have equally been miserably ineffective in wooing the electorates to vote for their programs and plans for changes and reforms. So, electorate had gone in significant numbers to the option that said loudly enough “we are not like any of them!”(Meaning HDZ or SDP).
This easily points to the democratically positive fact that the Croatian electorate is gaining in confidence and ability or strength to decide for itself and that candidates in future elections will need to work much harder to deserve and earn votes from people. “Bridge’s” electoral success seems to indicate that many Croatians are disenchanted with the traditional political parties, which have failed to address the country’s deep-rooted economic problems. And so the general elections results in effect mean that Zoran Milanovic’s Social Democrats government had lost but Tomislav Karamarko’s Croatian Democtratic Union did not quite win!
Be that as it may, Croatia today truly stands in a political pickle: both major political parties/coalitions have won enough seats to potentially form government with the third, new group – Bridge, or the two major political parties could form alliance between themselves only and form a government – plucking feathers off the threat to their power base that “Bridge’s” success at the polls poses; it has for a long time been said that Croatia needs a Third political option (besides the traditional big-players HDZ and SDP) and “Bridge’s” success appears to be the first ever “Third Option” that has hit the ground confidently running to the parliament and having a significant say in government.
The problem with the “Bridge” group/coalition is that it’s not a homogenous group when it comes to a political ideology or even a set of programs to be had to improve Croatia’s economic and national unity fortunes. Mostly, the group is made up of several quite strong personalities (some relatively unknown and untested in national public service) and sound individuals who have been successful at their respective local scenes or local governments that often carry agendas not necessarily applicable to national issues. Furthermore, Drago Prgomet, one of the leading politicians in the “Bridge” group had relatively recently left HDZ, where he was a deputy leader under circumstances seemingly less than peaceful.
The question that leaps at one at this stage is: What criteria will the “Bridge” use in deciding which side it will join to help form a government if it comes to that: the centre-right/HDZ or the centre-left/SDP? They said in their campaign they’re neither and won their parliamentary seats on that account for sure; there are those among them who equally hate HDZ and SDP or like one more than the other but have declared they like neither…complicated!
Both the leader of HDZ, Tomislav Karamarko and the leader of SDP – Zoran Milanovic, have stated readiness to conduct talks with the “Bridge” in order to form a government. Another leading “Bridge” figure Bozo Petrov said on Monday 9 November it was ready for discussions. On the other hand, who knows, HDZ and SDP, the staunch political enemies, may end up putting their irons in the same fire and form a government – wouldn’t that be a shocker! The whole nation would need to go on Valium or some such sedative drug to carry it through to the next elections! It does strike one that to give “Bridge” room to swing its cats also means risking losing much of the power-base owned by each of the big players: HDZ and SDP! One wonders whether the Croatian winners at these elections are capable of leaving their egos outside the door before entering the meeting room where negotiations regarding forming government are to be held. Or, or – no government formed and new elections set, say for January or February 2016! (?)
Although members of the “Bridge” group have said in recent months that they would not be promoting personality cults I have yet to see a single member state in public that the “Bridge” would go back to its electorate and talk to their constituents, to people who voted for them, and seek their direction as with whom they should form alliances towards forming the government: HDZ or SDP! It’s shaping up to be a political mud-slinging fight loaded with individual and suddenly inflated egos so that any outcome is possible, unless of course, the coming days show some cementing of unity within the group for the program ahead to make Croatia firmly directed at economic recovery in particular.
Croatian president Kolinda Grabar Kitarović commented on the general election results with positive overtones and trust in the power of negotiations and consultations. “The results of the elections show that Croatia is a mature democracy. I want to congratulate everyone who entered the Parliament, as well as Patriotic Coalition (HDZ-led coalition), which is a relative winner of the election. I invite all those who are elected to Parliament to demonstrate their responsibility to the citizens who elected them and to put party interests aside. Together, we must continue to lead Croatia out of the crisis. In accordance with constitutional powers, I will act responsibly and I believe that we will, after consultation with the parties, soon have the new prime minister-designate”, the president said. Indeed, the coming week will show how mature Croatia’s democracy is at this time and whether personal emotions and views of politicians needing to consult will, to the country’s detriment, win against the absolute and cold-faced need to set up a responsible and effective government that is very different to the one Social Democrats and Zoran Milanovic have led in past four years.
Currently the most pressing problems in Croatia are:
• unemployment is at 15.4% – the third-highest in the European Union, after Greece and Spain
• youth unemployment is at 43.1% – also the third-highest in the EU
• the country has suffered six years of recession, although has seen little growth this year
• over 360,000 refugees and illegal migrants have passed through Croatia since beginning of September/late August this year and thousands are being housed in temporary winter reception centres en route to Western Europe, causing concerns on all sides.
Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)