The conservative Croatian Democratic Union, or HDZ, scored a relative victory in the early parliamentary vote on Sunday 11 September and now faces the task of forming a coalition government after voters again failed to produce a clear majority winner. Complete results reported Monday by Croatia’s state electoral commission showed that Andrej Plenkovic’s HDZ won 61 seats in the 151-member parliament, while Zoran Milanovic’s left-leaning Peoples’ Coalition won 54. Bozo Petrov’s Most party, or Bridge of Independent lists won 13 seats and it appears Most will again be a kingmaker as was the case in the last government. Zivi Zid, or Human Shield/Live Wall, a populist left alliance led by Ivan Vilibor Sincic, presented as the biggest surprise of these elections as it surged from 1 seat in last elections to 8 in these ones as it promised to be tough on banks and on the demand to seek prosecution of unnamed corrupt officials. General Zeljko Glasnovic, an independent who left HDZ just prior to elections, won a seat representing the diaspora and his strong card is that of lustration (getting rid of former communists in high positions in Yugoslavia from high position in democratic Croatia). Istrian Democratic Party and partners won 3 seats, Milan Bandic’s (current Mayor of Zagreb) Premier party won 2 seats and HDSSB (Croatian Democratic Alliance of Slavonia and Baranja) andHKS (Croatian Conservative Party) 1 seat.
Various types of mainly lingering communist ethos in Croatia have rushed to form an orchestra chanting that the new, like the last government, will not last long; that the voters are disappointed and disenchanted. One assumes they could say no different given that their like-minded exit polls agencies had failed miserably when they predicted the centre-left headed by Zoran Milanovic would win an easy victory over the centre-right HDZ. One assumes the Social Democrat led opposition will not cease creating scandals in order to destabilise the new government.
Wrong exit polls, dashed the hopes of many who were “certain” the “Reds” will win a comfortable victory over the conservative lot all contributed to Zoran Milanovic’s announcement he will retire from leader of Social Democrats position after such bad election results for the party. Yes, Zoran Milanovic was quite involved and loud in toppling the previous HDZ leader Tomislav Karamarko and consequently the government in June of this year. Zoran Milanovic’s SDP loss at the snap elections last Sunday could well be karma at play for his leadership was instrumental and loud in framing Karamarko to a corner where there was no alternative but to resign to save HDZ from ongoing scandals, that were often unfounded and concocted. Although Milanovic managed to get elected into the parliament this time on basis of preferences his clout is bound to be weaker although his stubborn and often stupid communist rhetoric may persist. At least he won’t be joined in parliament by the former president of Croatia, Stjepan Mesic, whom SDP resurrected from retirement and placed on its electoral list of candidates. Not even preferential votes managed to get Mesic across the parliament’s threshold. All Mesic got was some miserable 5,000 votes. This though may not deter Mesic from playing a role in helping SDP maintain political divisiveness in Croatia, which surely seems as main culprit for the election results environment still deadlocked between two large parties without producing a clear preference or majority.
The turnout at elections on Sunday was 52.6% some 8% lower than in November 2015 although in the countries abroad, in the diaspora, the turnout was significantly higher in many polling stations, suggesting the diaspora is gradually becoming more alert in making sure people register to vote as required in advance. The lower voter turnout and the relatively high number of votes cast for relatively newly-established minor parties/or coalitions has been a recurring phenomenon in recent years and these elections provided no exception. This would suggest that either many Croatian voters are looking for an alternative to the two-party option or HDZ and SDP have both failed miserably at convincing a majority to vote for them. Whatever the reason for the rather thin spread of votes across parties that precludes a majority win, the outcome does present major challenges for the formation of a homogeneous government. Forming a government in this mix of electoral wins would suggest deals and compromises will need to be made and this, in turn, may mean a weakened capacity of government to deliver on needed reforms.
So, many types will say that the reality is that even though HDZ got 2 more seats than last November and SDP got 2 less, this won’t make much difference. Croatia is still going to get pretty much more of the same; the same bickering that led to the previous government’s downfall (?).
However, more of the same in Croatia’s circumstances may mean the economy has started moving and it will keep growing slightly but without a clear, confident and competent course for enhancing and securing that growth or meaningfully pegging back the budget deficit, foreign debts, unemployment… Perhaps I will be proven wrong and I hope I am – but it does take exceptional strength to hold the rudder straight and firm amidst such a intricate variety of political egos and gaggle of groups HDZ will need to work with in its new government.
But perhaps the new government will prove both the skeptics and its would-be gravediggers wrong! If firmness or resolve to lead is anything to go by then HDZ’s Andrej Plenkovic’s determination to be Croatia’s Prime Minister, as his party was the relative winner, may hold the key for a stable government in spite of its diverse make-up. This was something that formerly Tomislav Karamarko did not pursue as firmly as Plenkovic is doiung right from the start; before the government is formed. Plenkovic is already setting the tone of a new government that will have a clear leadership and that is positive. It could well be that appointing a technocratic Prime Minister (Tihomir Oreskovic) who was not an elected party’s member was the element that rocked the previous government the most and contributed to its gradual instability.
Having said that Plenkovic’s strength could well prove to be an asset for HDZ’s stabilising influence upon the new government, without a doubt, forming the new government will prove tricky and difficult for Andrej Plenkovic/HDZ. A prime minister needs a majority of like-minded members (at least on issues tabled for voting within the parliament) to govern. In the house of representatives almost 25% (or more if we count smaller parties such as HNS/Croatian Peoples’ Party who were in coalition with SDP, won some seats, etc., and may entertain the notion of entering into government with HDZ – God forbid) filled with smaller parties and single-seat independent, this is hard to do. Forming a government, and then keeping it together, depends on the co-operation of a flock of groups, often with diverging interests as well as reluctant collaborators. If a small party falls out with its coalition partners, it can bring down the government – similar was the case last time.
A political “risk” factor needs to be added to these structures of a minority government with HDZ as relative majority: Croatia continues to be a divided country. Zoran Milanovic’s SDP and coalition partners have been very active in labeling HDZ as a criminally corrupt party that’s sinking into extreme nationalism, neo-fascism and reviving the WWII Ustashe regime while HDZ supporters have denounced Zoran Milanovic and his SDP as Communists bent on seizing power through resisting prosecution of and reckoning with communist crimes committed during former Yugoslavia as well as through incompetence to govern and uplift the country’s desperate state of the economy and slow-down the brain-drain with droves of young talented people leaving the country in search of jobs abroad. On the sidelines stand Most/Bridge of Independent lists and Live Wall, each reluctant to go into coalition with anyone but each lampooning on how their political agenda will save Croatia and nothing else, as well as the several ethnic minority seats that tend to serve cackling political cocktails and rub wrongly against the perceived Croatian national interests among the general population. The coming weeks will certainly prove challenging for Plenkovic and HDZ as they go about the business of forming a new government and I, for one, do not tend to judge that future government on the performance of the last one, particularly so because there will be a mix of personalities and skills in the new one that were not a contributing factor in the last one. So: good luck HDZ! Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)