Croatia: Dandelion-like First Round Local Elections Results


Bruna Esih list
Local Elections 2017
May spell out new directions
in Croatia’s political landscape
Photo: Screenshot

To some people the dandelion is simply a bother, to others it is something that means a great deal. Overall, blow on the dried dandelion flower and particles fly all over the place, with no definite pattern to rely upon unless their landing is scooped into a meaningful shape.

Were one to focus on the content of local election campaigns in Croatia during May 2017 one could not but see that national issues weighed more heavily than local ones, particularly in the city of Zagreb, the relatively largest voting population in one place in Croatia, which by the same fact could be used as some sort of barometer flaunting political issues affecting Croatia. A trend to be expected given the HDZ-led (Croatian Democratic Union) minority government crisis that still strongly flutters in the air and, indeed, the polls for the capital Zagreb 21 May dealt a major blow to HDZ’s candidate for the City of Zagreb, despite the fact that HDZ had some significant first round wins sprawled across regional or rural areas.

The first round local elections results give no clarity as to which way the second round polls on June 4 will fall. Confusion and deeper political mayhem may well result, giving the message that serious changes and new blood-lines in the political climate and practice are essential to Croatia’s future.

In about mid-May 2017, dealing with his minority government’s crisis that had as part of the crisis lost its coalition partner – MOST List of Independents, Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic announced that the seats of the coalition partner in government will be filled after the local elections so that a workable government could be formed and snap-elections avoided. The first round of local elections took place on 21 May and second round to be held 4 June. The government and political crisis have led to an evident widening HDZ’s division lines (those for and those against Plenkovic as leader, particularly) and the shedding of some key members either through expulsions from the party or through self-propelled walk-aways, as well as first round victories in 42 towns/local councils and entering into second round in 44 others suggesting a serious or at least unpredictable at this stage voter based loyalty.

The results from 21 May polls do not at this stage give much clarity as to what to expect at the second round. Virtually all established political parties are at the losing end of the confidence spectrum, but in Zagreb the new player in the field – Bruna Esih list, which had several widely politically trusted right-orientation names (Dr. Zlatko Hasanbegovic, General Zeljko Glasnovic) with a strong history of determined actions towards clearing Croatia of the still-prevalent communist mindset, as well as war veterans of note such as Marko Rados, Croatian culture devotees such as Dr. Ana Lederer, and others. This new right stream headed by Bruna Esih is about the only force in the local elections mix that commands attention as it steers attention towards hope that political leadership in Croatia may indeed develop the badly needed positive changes, which in essence spell out a more assertive building of democracy and Croatian independence self-determination. Bruna Esih’s list saw comparatively excellent results in the first round, which were twice higher than those of the HDZ candidate Drago Prgomet. She won 10.98% of the votes, and Prgomet – 5.60%. In all practicality this means that Esih’s list will occupy several seats in the City of Zagreb Assembly, forming an important element upon which the final winner of the Mayor’s chair (incumbent Milan Bandic/ “365 party” or Anka Mrak Taritas/Croatian People’s Party HNS) may indeed need to depend upon to get things done. But even if such collaboration does not occur, encouraged by the solid results at local elections, Bruna Esih team has announced the formation of a new political party to be represented nationally in next general elections.

This may well herald wider than Zagreb favourable voter sentiments to come, similar to those that come with fresh new, needed, force on the map of Croatia’s political organism that is in desperate need of clear leadership. Similar perhaps to those when third political forces such as MOST or Live Wall were perceived as the forces that would break up the two-party monopoly, which left great majorities of disgruntled citizens, to put it mildly. However, MOST and Live Wall have failed dismally to push for changes the nation needs and needed.

To further demonstrate the evident influence national political issues and ongoing national government crisis have had on local elections one can also look at the appalling results MOST’s candidates have had. MOST – list of independents – is seen as orchestrating two government crises within a matter of six months and because of it second snap elections within the same period are a likely outcome. MOST ‘s success (if it can be called that) at 2017 local election is meaningless and degrading, a far cry from the success they achieved at previous local elections, from whence MOST group climbed the ladder of power within the national parliament elections that had followed. The other quick-rising club from last national elections is the Live Wall (Živi Zid) group and they too have come up against a very telling rejection at 2017 local elections. SDP or Social Democratic Party (the other major party besides HDZ) stays on relative ice when it comes to local elections even if it chose not to have candidates in a number of council areas – it did not experience embarrassing losses but apart from its stronghold city of Rijeka where its candidate seems certain to win the second round, it can bathe in no pool of laurels and this adds to the pressure against its president Davor Bernardic to move aside for fresh SDP leadership blood.

While most political parties and independent candidates invested a great deal of energy on focusing their council election campaigns on national issues, local elections, after all, should be a vote for local councillors who will be looking after local services and issues that matter in neighbourhoods and in people’s daily lives. That is, the essential city services, the support provided for most vulnerable people, and the local economy. But this does not seem to be the case for Croatia, which suggests that everyday lives are saturated with political or ideological issues and need to be aired one way or another before life can settle into some orderly processes one expects in a democracy.

Having said all this, Plenkovic’s resolve to stay in government power as long as possible, regardless of HDZ member splits from it occurring almost constantly, could see coalition with Milan Bandic’s party, which already has members in the parliament, if Bandic wins second round polls for Mayor of Zagreb. This would mean that HDZ would link up with the party whose leader – Bandic – has been linked to corruption on a number of occasions although evidence of that has not yet percolated to the visible surface. The eventual fall of the government and new elections would mean a new cycle of uncertainty over Croatia, another postponement of vital reforms – but then again, HDZ or SDP in their governing track records have not convinced the people they have what it takes to install and achieve needed reforms. Perhaps, a major overhaul in skills-oriented leadership of HDZ is needed if HDZ is to retain government for the remainder of its current mandate. Nevertheless, all arrows for reforms seem to point to a third political option, which does not yet formally exist – regretfully. Ina Vukic

Croatia In A Pickle To Form New Government



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.

Leader of Croatian Democratic Union/HDZ Tomislav Karamarko raises a glass to relative victory at 2015 general elections in Croatia Victory not enough to form government Photo: AFP

Leader of Croatian Democratic Union/HDZ
Tomislav Karamarko
raises a glass to relative victory at
2015 general elections in Croatia
Victory not enough to form government
Photo: AFP

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.


Leader of Social Democrats/SDP and former Premier Zoran Milanovic Still in the running to form government although record of last mandate appalling Photo: Ivica Galovic/ PIXSELL

Leader of Social Democrats/SDP and former Premier
Zoran Milanovic
Still in the running to form government
although record of last mandate appalling
Photo: Ivica Galovic/ PIXSELL

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.


Left: Drago Prgomet Right: Bozo Petrov two leaders of "Bridge" (Most) group of independents that won enough parliamentary seats to influence the formation of government in Croatia Photo: Robert Anic/Pixsell

Left: Drago Prgomet Right: Bozo Petrov
two leaders of “Bridge” (Most)
group of independents that
won enough parliamentary seats to influence the
formation of government in Croatia
Photo: Robert Anic/Pixsell

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.

President of Croatia Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic addresses the nation after the results of 2015 parliamentary elections announced Photo:

President of Croatia
Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic
addresses the nation after the
results of 2015 parliamentary elections announced

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)

Tomislav Karamarko: A good notch above all new candidates for Croatian Democratic Union leadership

Tomislav Karamarko

The Croatian Democratic Union (CDU) (Hrvatska demokratska zajednica/ HDZ), having been the predominant force in national politics in the two decades since Croatia split from Yugoslavia, has been facing a struggle for leadership after steep parliamentary losses (December 2011) and allegations of corruption of individual former leaders or party dignitaries.

A month after  CDU lost at general elections and its leader Jadranka Kosor was replaced as Prime Minister by Zoran Milanovic of the Social Democratic Party (December 2011), five candidates have emerged to challenge Kosor for CDU party leadership.

Contrary to the view one may form from following the Croatian media, this, of course, is a normal event. Everywhere one looks (in developed democratic societies) electoral defeats are assessed; political parties re-grouped, new programs emerge … Every political party in the democratic world undergoes (or should undergo) a major “SWOT” (Strengths – Weaknesses – Opportunities – Threats) analysis after a defeat at general elections.

Such a “SWOT” analysis is, I guess, best done as a group “brainstorming” effort within a party/organisation. But, proposals made by individuals are also acceptable and indeed can create a refreshing change if changes within a Party or its programs are needed.

Changes to a political party after electoral defeats are those, should be those that reflect the best interests and needs of the people (voters) within the democratic State.

On January 23rd, CDU announced that presidential elections will be May 20th at the party’s 15th general assembly.

Soon after, Jadranka Kosor had announced her candidacy for re-election as leader (president) of CDU and so had five other members of CDU. The five new candidates are: Marko Karamarko (former minister of internal affairs); Milan Kujundzic (medical doctor), Darko Milinovic (former minister of health); Domagoj Milosevic (former deputy prime minister) and Drago Prgomet (member of CDU central committee).

Most candidates for CDU leadership go about building a public profile of themselves – hoping I guess that the information will flow to party members and translate into votes at the general assembly in May.

Some candidates try to impress by “name dropping” of “world VIP’s” they know or who support them (e.g. Hillary Clinton, Angela Merkel) (Kosor), some have announced retirement from politics if they’re not elected (Milinovic), some claim that CDU is sick and needs to be cured and that with the disappearance or weakening of CDU, the Croatian state is also endangered, democracy disappears (Kujundzic), and so on.

Well, there is no way that democracy can disappear from Croatia because it’s well rooted in the political system with many (maybe too many) political parties floating around. CDU as a political movement had made sure of that from the very beginnings of Croatian independence, under the leadership of Franjo Tudjman.

Judging by the fact that there are 6 candidates for its presidency, CDU is in strife.

Change seems imminent if it wants to secure electoral victory for government at the next general elections. Relationships and mechanisms within the party itself don’t interest the public (except members of the party), what interests the public is/ will be: can CDU be a better governing party than the current Kukuriku (Cock-a-doodle-doo) alliance or any other political party/alliance that may emerge as a serious contender at next elections?

Kosor is a “known” quantity and CDU had lost at the general elections miserably, despite her excellent leadership in bringing Croatia to the doorstep of EU membership and not doodling around the fight against organised crime and corruption.

With the dynamic, often confusing and comic commotion created by the mere existence of 6 candidates for the presidency of CDU and the spins the Croatian media churns out on a daily basis, Kosor just might be re-elected. Better the “devil” you know … as the proverb goes. She certainly has the stamina to change CDU internally, give it the facelift it needs in becoming appealing to the electorate again.

From the new 5 candidates for CDU presidency Tomislav Karamarko stands out by miles from the others.

One knows where one stands with Karamarko: he takes his “political” job seriously, dedicates himself in achieving results and outcomes in difficult circumstances – he is a people man.

As police minister he had mounted a determined, hard fight against corruption and organised crime as well as pursuing Communist crimes from WWII and after. He recognised the high importance these issues have to the future well being of the Croatian nation and acted accordingly.

When in February 2011 asked if he had political ambitions Karamarko replied: “Every person who’s within the political sphere must have political ambitions. My ambition is to be useful to this country.”

There are those in Croatia who consider Karamarko too right-wing to be “liked” by EU circles and that as such he would not be accepted.  That’s plain wrong and mere political point scoring. Right-wing political parties, conservatives, are well alive and kicking across the EU and the Western world, even the far-right parties such as the British National Party hold seats in EU Parliament.

One only needs to look at the interactive map produced by the Guardian in UK last year to see how more and more EU countries, faced with economic and immigration problems, are turning conservative.

Croatia needs more of right-wing orientation in order to become stronger as an entity within the international arena, to be recognised as a force that has a great deal to offer and share.

Karamarko now takes this attitude of being useful to his country into his election campaign for the leadership of CDU. For him, CDU is a mere vessel to “deliver the goods” for all the people of Croatia. And that is what a political party must do.

Karamarko freely and with confidence points to his loyalty to Croatian independence, to paths laid down by Franjo Tudjman – free, sovereign, democratic and prosperous nation that upholds the values of the Homeland war and war veterans.

Recently Karamarko was interviewed on Osijek TV about his candidacy for president of CDU and from about 9.00 min on the televised interview above he said:

My main platform: Economic independence is essential for national independence. We have sovereignty, constitutional, legal…  but it should not remain a dead letter on paper … if we’re not going to have economic independence … the program with which I’m coming out in the coming month, month and a half …  is actually called ‘New Croatian Independence’ where I place an accent on entering European Union, how are we going to be in EU?

 Are we going to be swept away because someone is going to buy out our I would say valuable potentials, economic, natural, water, sea and in the end the potentials of our people, or are we ourselves going to make use of them in adequate and useful ways…in the way that we will offer something to the EU and take something from it.

.…and there in that correlation, that co-existence, one sees I would say a good future.

 What I like to say is that we need to enter the EU with a name and a surname.

We cannot enter it as some breakaway part of former Yugoslavia but as authentic Croatian value with diligent quality people we have… look, our people everywhere in the world in EU function fantastically somehow we function the worst in Croatia but, here, Croatia has neared, entered the EU and there is no reason for us not to achieve those standards while protecting our what I call potentials whether they’re human or natural economic

… see what we can offer, Europe needs to see our values, in reality it already has, and that’s why we’re entering into the EU  but we need to protect that we are the ones who inherit the results of this good position of ours, the geostrategic and everything else that are our potentials”.

There’s no sense in beating around the bush: both the CDU and Croatia are in strife. CDU, rightly so, wants to be in government again – as any serious political party does; Croatia is in economic turmoil with alarming downturns and existential fears spreading like wildfire at the grassroots of its growing numbers of unemployed. To top the latter the sense of “everything will be all right, EU will help us” seems to pervade throughout the Croatian society.

No, EU will not help the people – any help from economically embattled EU would only be makeshift, band-aid. Croatian people simply must turn to themselves and overcome the economic strife they’re in, by utilising more their own great people potentials and those of natural and industrial resources.

Tomislav Karamarko’s program, message, is clear on this and if that means his political orientation is palpably to the right, that can only be good, that can only be right, just as it is in the many countries of EU today.

It’s been over a hundred years when in April 1899, in Chicago, Theodore Roosevelt (US conservative/Republican president 1901-1909) said:

Above all, let us shrink from no strife, moral or physical, within or without the nation, provided we are certain that the strife is justified, for it is only through strife, through hard and dangerous endeavor, that we shall ultimately win the goal of true national greatness”.

CDU (HDZ) has seen Croatia through more than a tolerable share of difficulties and tragedies, national and personal. The past twenty years have been unkind to Croatia and yet, it has prevailed. One learns by one’s mistakes, and mistakes are an inherent part of development and growth. CDU will overcome this strife, this test of time where many destructive forces within and without Croatia continue trying to destroy the national pride that has sustained Croatian people through centuries of oppression and hardships. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

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