Croatia: Forming New Government Still A Troublesome Affair

Bozo Petrov (Centre) and members of Bridge/Most At Plitvice Croatia 14 November 2015 PHOTO: R.FAJT/CROPIX

Bozo Petrov (Centre) and members of Bridge/Most
At Plitvice Croatia 14 November 2015


Bozo Petrov, the head or the front-man of Croatia’s new reformist political group Bridge/ (“MOST” in Croatian language), which is likely to hold the balance of power in forming a new government as it won 19 seats on 8 November and neither of the two big parties with coalitions won enough to form government, said last Wednesday 11 November 2015 Bridge/ MOST wanted a government of national unity that included itself and the two major parties (Croatian Democratic Union/HDZ and Social Democratic Party/SDP), the governing centre-left and the opposition centre-right coalitions. So, after gaining a possibly pivotal position that could make or break the government of Croatia the members of the Bridge of Independent Lists, MOST, appeared to have grown wings of inflated egos and began calling the shots and dictating, including that neither Tomislav Karamarko (leader of centre-right) or Zoran Milanovic (leader of centre-left) should become the next Prime Minister of Croatia but that MOST will have the decisive say as to who should be the next Prime Minister.
Furthermore the sudden fame seemed to have affected one of the Bridge/MOST prominent leaders, Drago Prgomet, in a destructive way so much so that he was caught meeting in secret with leader of centre-left Zoran Milanovic and Ante Kotromanovic (minister of defence in outgoing government) supposedly attempting to negotiate “private” deals MOST may want if it went with SDP to form government! Prgomet was swiftly booted out of the Bridge group and I am actually glad for that because his actions demonstrate a lack of political responsibility for the nation and a still-present repulsive inclination to act on personal friendship level rather than with professional distance at critical times such as these.


Many of the political analysts in Croatia say a government of national unity, including such traditional rivals as the SDP and HDZ, will not work. Tomislav Karamarko refused the coalition for a national government idea, saying that it was “not a good idea” to include the SDP in any future government after it ruined the economy. Zoran Milanovic also refused the idea and SDP rejected any such coalition for government that would include SDP and where he would not be the Prime Minister.


Governments of national unity are seen these days in countries of war and unrest and they occurred in the past in various countries in times of war but in days of democracy or when democratic processes should be working well and seen to be working suggesting a government of national unity is a backward step for democracy and for the inherent weight of decision making and political choice and competition within it. Croatia did form a national unity government in 1991 under Prime Minister Franjo Greguric in response to the outbreak of Serb led aggression against Croatia and the Croatian War of Independence. Even though the cabinet included ministers from minority parties, all heads of ministries were either from the majority Croatian Democratic Union/HDZ or soon defected to it; but of course it’s difficult to imagine the composition of such national government could have been different for HDZ was a politically sweeping popular movement and the left-sided League of Communists and their political allies did not want an independent and democratic Croatia in the first place. But when the war situation stabilitised on the battlefields that national unity government was dissolved and new elections held in August 1992.


So Bridge/MOST group would want us to think that Croatia is in a crisis of similar intensity and threat as it was in 1991 and that national unity government is essential in order to move forward. According to the Croatian news agency HINA, A professor of economics and member of the Bridge coalition of independent candidates, Ivan Lovrinovic, said on Friday 13 November that Croatia only had the year 2016 to make significant changes in its economic policy and a radical turnaround in reforms, otherwise it risked bankruptcy.


If no radical reforms are launched next year in the monetary and tax systems, the judiciary, public administration and public companies, the system will collapse and Croatia will have a situation similar to that in Greece, Lovrinovic said.


Members of Bridge/MOST met on Saturday 14 November 2015 in the Ethno Houses Village at Plitvice National Park presumably to align a united front – after the embarrassing ousting of Prgomet during the week – ahead of meeting with both centre-right HDZ and centre-left SDP coalitions with view to forming the new government in Croatia.


Asked on Saturday 14 November at the Ethno Houses Village whether Bridge/Most will continue insisting on a government of national unity for Croatia or move ahead by negotiating individually with each of the two big political coalitions (centre-right and centre-left) Bozo Petrov replied that Bridge continues with “same consistency” vis-à-vis the need for reforms while others called for “an absolutely different program, and today they are absolutely for reforms”. “That pleases us, just as we are pleased that the voters have shown how much they care for reforms…For the general well-being it’s very important that we have a two-thirds majority, because voting for some reforms will require constitutional changes,” said Petrov.



Two thirds of the 151-seat parliament equals 100.3 seats! So even if Petrov did avoid answering the question put to him by journalists one can conclude that Bridge is still after a government of national unity as with current election results it is impossible achieving a two-thirds majority by striking a deal with only one of the two possible large sides (HDZ or SDP). While reforms are necessary for Croatia, concepts such as “crossing the floor” to vote in parliament (for or against matters on agenda) may be alien to the seemingly and relatively young politicians and inexperienced democratic parliamentarians such as Petrov and members of the Bridge/MOST? Perhaps negotiating and lobbying to achieve a greater goal for the nation are skills a tad or two foreign to Croatian democratic thought and practice – in general? It’s difficult to interpret MOST’s insistence on two-thirds majority government in any other way – they should know that securing two-thirds of parliament seats for a government does not necessarily secure the success of voting for reforms within the parliament.


One thing also niggles: given that Bridge/MOST group had campaigned in their election campaign against the Zoran Milanovic SDP government, on the premise that it had proven an incompetent government which destroyed and devastated the Croatian economy, why would the same group now want to seek that the same Social Democrat/SDP politicians are taken into a new government whose main task would be to work on reforms that would lift up the economy away from the threatening bankruptcy!? Petrov had said that Bridge/MOST would be talking to HDZ and SDP during the coming week.


It seems to me that Bridge/MOST or rather some of its members who have been elected have bitten off the needed-reforms cake more than they can chew, as it seems clear that coming up with strategies for achieving the needed reforms are not within the items of their strengths.




Petrov, the Bridge leader, is seeking to commit both the HDZ and SDP to drastic austerity measures. He has agreed to tolerate a minority government, but only if it implements harsh reforms and yet he insists on two-thirds majority government! If the government wavers from this course it will be toppled, he asserts. But, if new elections are called due to lack of agreements and consensuses in forming the new government in the coming week or so the results could, of course, go against Bridge/MOST – perhaps if because of nothing else then because of its lack of resolve and details in their vision of how to make Croatia a place of better living standards. Bridge/MOST has not demonstrated it has the skills to achieve the reforms it so skilfully listed on its election campaign agenda. Indications are that new general elections are imminent for January 2016 – unless a turnaround occurs and Bridge’s/MOST’s political appetites simmer down. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

Croatia: Left Side Politics Partisanship Obstructing Right to Vote

Croatian elections

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)

Croatian Political Left Scavenging Over Conservative Terrain: Can Seven Year Itch Play

Zoran Milanovic Croatian Prime Minister and Leader of Social Democrats

Zoran Milanovic
Croatian Prime Minister and
Leader of Social Democrats


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 HDZ Croatian Democratic Union

Tomislav Karamarko
Leader of HDZ
Croatian Democratic Union

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)

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