Croatia: Minority Government, More Of The Same (?)

Map of Croatia With Election 2016 Results by majority seats per electorate Photo: Screenshot HRT news 12.09.2016

Map of Croatia
With Election 2016 Results
by majority seats per electorate
Photo: Screenshot HRT news 12.09.2016

 

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.

Croatian Democratic Union/HDZ Headquarters on election night 11 September 2016 with president Andrej Plenkovic in centre Photo: Connor Vlakancic

Croatian Democratic Union/HDZ
Headquarters on election night
11 September 2016 with president
Andrej Plenkovic in centre
Photo: Connor Vlakancic

 

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.

 

SDP president Zoran Milanovic announces resignation from leader of opposition Photo: Nova TV news 11.09.2016/Connor Vlakancic

SDP president Zoran Milanovic
announces resignation from leader of opposition
Photo: Nova TV news 11.09.2016/Connor Vlakancic

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.

Andrej Plenkovic President HDZ/Croatian Democratic Union grateful for election victory 11.09.2016 Photo: Connor Vlakancic

Andrej Plenkovic
President HDZ/Croatian Democratic Union
grateful for election victory 11.09.2016
Photo: Connor Vlakancic

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)

 

 

Croatia: Snappish Coalitions For Snap Elections

Croatian Elections 2016

Early general elections in Croatia coming up second weekend of September 2016 have not only got behind them the brutally rushed toppling of a short-lived minority HDZ/Croatian Democratic Union–led government amidst founded and unfounded scandals, but are seeing the formation of snappish coalitions and an emergence of miniature political parties and individuals with irritating and irritable chips on their shoulders. All this spells out a possibility that the election results could well come back and bite the Croatian citizens in the back. With some unnatural coalitions between political parties that primarily point to individual candidate desperation to win seats at all costs and the stepping up the rhetoric on the stale dog’s breakfast of a guaranteed fantastic and prosperous future where there’ll be jobs for all, no thieves or corrupt in the public administration and public companies, debilitating foreign debt beat to a pulp and such, one really has difficulties is seeing much change on the political leadership scene from the previous elections of last decade or so. The only change that perhaps one might see is in seemingly more aggressive competition to secure local votes for individuals or smaller parties acting locally rather than nationally. It appears that most of the political coalitions in the elections race are counting on the draining of individual votes from bigger rival political parties to individual candidates running against those rival parties and who perhaps have local prestige or respect regardless of the fact they and their programs are hopeless for the nation as a whole. HDZ and its partners continue to emit the most sober campaign in comparison to the other parties.

 

For the parliament of 151 seats there are, according to the Croatian Electoral Commission) 2, 456 candidates (40% women; age range between 18 and 90 years) registered and are vying for a seat, including 29 candidates for ethnic minorities. 2016 polls will dish out to the voters 20 various coalitions of 60 political parties, 29 political parties going independently, 3 lists of independent candidates and 6 lists of candidates for ethnic minorities. The sheer numbers of candidates is enough to give any person desirous of a stable government and stable political climate a migraine. It’s very clear that these elections are much about securing a seat for an individual candidate and then pinning it to the victory of their coalition’s leading party. Croatia is bound to be the big loser if the coalitions formed to muster up individual local candidate wins into a win of government or significant number of seats actually win government. The disarray will no longer be in the uncompromising differences between political parties’ platforms but within the actual coalition trying to govern the country as if it’s one party.

In this turbulent sea of thousands of candidates and dozens of political parties running for government the Croatian media has so far given the impression that there are, after all, some leading political camps that have good chances of winning either majority or minority government or the chance to contribute to the forming of a future government.

Andrej Plenkovic, HDZ/Croatian Democratic Union Photo: Screenshot hrt.hr 3 September 2016

Andrej Plenkovic,
HDZ/Croatian Democratic Union
Photo: Screenshot hrt.hr 3 September 2016

The centre-right party Croatian Democratic Union, HDZ, was the relative winner in November 2015 elections when it won 59 seats. With Tihomir Oreskovic as its technocratic Prime Minister HDZ held minority government with Most/Bridge group of independents only to be toppled amidst scandals in June of this year. HDZ was at the helm of Croatia leading it into secession from communist Yugoslavia and holding government between 1990 and 2000, during the war years, as well as between 2003 and 2011. The new HDZ leader Andrej Plenkovic, a experienced diplomat and EU parliamentarian, was elected as party president in July of this year, seemingly turning the party more to the centre. HDZ decided to compete in the elections alone this time, only considering coalition with individual candidates/partners from smaller parties in certain local areas. Its election campaign trail appears to be spotted with significant victory projections across traditionally conservative electorates but not seemingly enough to project at this stage an outright majority government win on September 11. One thing that’s standing out in HDZ election campaign is its rather successful thrust to present Plenkovic to the Croatian public as a desirable leader for the country, however, the campaign appears in my view to lack adequate presentation of the other ingredient usually associated with election victory: presentation of a strong team rather than individual that will lead Croatia into a better future.

Bozo Petrov Most/Bridge of independent parties Photo: Screenshot hrt.hr 3 September 2016

Bozo Petrov
Most/Bridge of independent lists
Photo: Screenshot hrt.hr 3 September 2016

The Most/Bridge of Independent Lists is a relatively new political party functioning as a group of individual politicians, small-town and municipal mayors formed in 2012 in the small town of Metkovic that claimed and claims to be a ‘third way’ party – the solution to get Croatia out of the rut of a two-party system or two big political parties dominating the political scene in Croatia. It secured 19 seats in November 2015 elections and, hence, became the element that shook and rattled Croatia for a few weeks to finally decide to side with HDZ rather than centre-left Social Democrats/SDP in forming Croatia’s short-lived government in January 2016. It’s president Bozo Petrov, a 37-year-old psychiatrist from Metkovic, where he has been mayor since 2013 has lost a number of his coalition members due to disputes but regardless of that Most/Bridge is still expected to come in as a “third force” and perhaps once again be the one to call the shots which of the major parties (HDZ or SDP) will form the future government even if Petrov says that Most will never go into a coalition again.

History repeats itself saying has never to my knowledge come with good or a positive thing.

 

Zoran Milanovic SDP/Social DEmocratic Party Photo: Screenshot hrt.hr 3 September 2016

Zoran Milanovic
SDP/Social Democratic Party
Photo: Screenshot hrt.hr 3 September 2016

In its new coalition the centre-left SDP/Social Democratic Party (the former League of Communists) led by Zoran Milanovic has changed its name from Croatia Grows to the People’s Coalition and added or changed the parties in its coalition to the point that spells out desperation to win even if judging by its performance in the 2011-2015 government – it should be placed on a political scrap heap for quite a number of years. This time around SDP continues to work with the centre-left Croatian People’s Party/HNS and has pulled in new coalition partners in the Croatian Party of Pensioners, HSU, and the centre-right Croatian Peasants’ Party, HSS, which was a part of the HDZ-led Patriotic Coalition last November. It seems that HSS’s leader’s Kreso Beljak’s history of vandalism and theft convictions under the crimes law makes no difference in SDP’s selection of its coalition partner’s. While the notions of rehabilitation and second chances may be an acceptable way to lead life they certainly don’t factor as acceptable for members of a government in my book, especially when there’s much noise about corruption and theft in government bodies. Social Democrats are leading a campaign of dirt slinging against HDZ especially, and yet they themselves seem to have gathered quite a bit of dirt under their wings, showing it off, even, without blinking an eye. Not a good look for a party desirous of winning government but – there it is.

Ivan Lovrinovic (L) and Ivan Vilibor Sincic (R) Only Option Coalition Photo: makarsko-primorje.com

Ivan Lovrinovic (L) and
Ivan Vilibor Sincic (R)
Only Option Coalition
Photo: makarsko-primorje.com

The so-called Only Option Coalition was formed in July and is led by the anti-establishment Living Wall. Living Wall was created in 2011 from a civic movement fighting foreclosures and evictions by occupying buildings and is led by Ivan Vilibor Sincic. Three former Most/Bridge MPs, as well as the Association Franak (an NGO set up to lobby for people with loans in Swiss francs, whose debts rose due to a steep rise in the value of the franc) join living Wall in the coalition. The Only Option Coalition is said to be gaining momentum that may, as far as seats won is concerned,  place it on equal footing to the Most/Bridge wins and, therefore, make it an another camp with which a future minority government would negotiate terms to form government especially since Most/Bridge says it will not enter into any coalition with anybody.

Milan Bandic Coalition for Prime Minister Photo: hrt.hr

Milan Bandic
Coalition for Prime Minister
Photo: hrt.hr

The veteran Zagreb Mayor Milan Bandic and his party Bandic Milan 365 – Party of Labour and Solidarity, leads the current Coalition for Prime Minister. Bandic, an ex-SDP member, has joined forces with two other ex-major party members who are factoring noticeably on the Croatian political scene: Ivo Baldasar from city of Split, an ex-SDP and Radimir Cacic of Reformists, an ex- HNS member. Bandic’s coalition also claims to be Croatia’s answer for a “third way”, however current polls predictions are quite slim for this camp – up to 2 or 3 seats in total.
There are two regional parties that won seats at the November elections and are likely to win some at the upcoming polls: the Istrian Democratic Assembly, IDS, and the Croatian Democratic Alliance of Slavonia and Baranja, HDSSB. While IDS is likely to continue favouring SDP as they themselves are riddled with former communists, HDSSB if it wins seats although ideologically close to the more right than centre-right is likely to keep its final preferences in the pocket to the last minute.

Archbishop Zelimir Puljic

Archbishop Zelimir Puljic

While polls suggest that a week before elections every fifth voter is undecided (HRT news 3 September 2016) and, therefore, surprises are possible including a majority government elected, the fact remains that neither of the two major parties seem to have done much work in wooing new voters into their camps and the election results will demonstrate that a large number of Croatian voters leaning towards the centre-left parties have made little if any progress in leaving the lingering pro-communist Yugoslavia mentality behind. Perhaps that is why the Croatian Bishops have Thursday 25 August sent via Archbishop of Zadar Zelimir Puljic their own message to Croatian voters to “familiarise themselves with candidates’ programs, especially the ones to do with the economy and to focus their attention on how individual political parties intend to continue with the process of education reform and the democratisation of the society as well as the confrontation with the communist past.” Could not have said it better myself. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

Croatian Government Falls – No Love In Politics

Left: Domagoj Ivan Milosevic, Gen Sec. HDZ Right: Tomislav Karamarko, President HDZ Photo: Marko Prpic/Pixsell

Left: Domagoj Ivan Milosevic, Gen Sec. HDZ
Right: Tomislav Karamarko, President HDZ
Photo: Marko Prpic/Pixsell

 

What gigantic three days of last week in the political life of Croatia.
In the wake of the Commission for conflicts of interests decision that conflict of interest applied to him in the case of INA/MOL and his wife’s business dealings, the leader of the majority party in government, Croatian Democratic Union/HDZ Tomislav Karamarko on Wednesday 15 June resigned as First Deputy Prime Minister; but not without emphasising that HDZ, as relatively major seat holder in parliament, was not giving up its fight to form a new government within the 30 days defined by law after a fall of government and that new elections were the very last option HDZ would look to. Indeed, HDZ has been giving confident reassurances that it has decided upon its candidate for the new Prime Minister (current finance minister Zdravko Maric) and that it will in the ensuing legally defined period of 30 days from the fall of current government succeed in achieving 76-seat majority in the parliament.

 

Tihomir Oreskovic, fallen Prime Minister of Croatia Photo: Marko Lukunic/Pixsell

Tihomir Oreskovic,
fallen Prime Minister of Croatia
Photo: Marko Lukunic/Pixsell

The current coalition government fell on Thursday 16 June after only five months in the throne as the Prime Minister Tihomir Oreskovic lost a confidence vote in the parliament.

 

Then in a move that evoked sizeable anger and resentment towards her seeming disrespect of rules and bias, president Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic wasted no time in hogging the public microphone on Friday 17 June, saying that “nobody I spoke with has (during the consultations she had held with members of parliament since the day before) convinced me they enjoy the needed support of 76 or more representatives to achieve the status of Prime Minister.”

I can confirm that a majority has expressed the opinion about the need for early elections,” she continued, adding that it was impossible to shorten the period of 30 days guaranteed by the Constitution and appealed to the president of the parliament Zeljko Reiner to bring the matter of dissolution of the parliament to its agenda as soon as possible! Reportedly most representatives she spoke to expressed the opinion that new elections should be held in early September, however, as per previous practice, one would expect that she would hold more than just one consultation within this important realm that gives her the responsibility to ensure Croatia has a government in place.

 

This is what’s on Croatia’s political plate at this moment:

parliamentary relative majority party HDZ seeks to utilise its constitutional right of 30 days to form a new coalition government rather than go to snap elections;
the country’s president appeals for the parliament to table the decision on its own dissolution prior to the expiry of those 30 days in order to make way for snap elections;
HDZ leader Tomislav Karamarko has announced his appeal against the conflict of interest findings to the Administrative tribunal.

 

Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic President of Croatia Photo: Marko Prpic/Pixsell

Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic
President of Croatia
Photo: Marko Prpic/Pixsell

 

 

As one might expect, this president’s move is fanning ongoing speculations and political postulations as to whether and why in fact the parliament should be dissolved on the day when 30 days expire (15 July 2016). The president’s move appears to be feeding a good deal of members of parliament to keep driving loud opinions that HDZ should bow out of its right to 30 days to form a new government and simply join the rest in speeding up the dissolution. This, of course, is causing a good deal of distressing confusion in public as well as to a politically staged diversion from HDZ’s inherent rights to try and quell ruffled-up spirits and save the government without the need for new elections. The political platform is rife with a push for snap elections, which also reveals many a new political ambition for all-important thrones including the one of the Prime Minister. Even Zagreb’s mayor Milan Bandic, who has till “yesterday” supported Karamarko, has reveled his newfound (?) ambition to put forth his name as candidate for Prime Minister at snap elections, for which he is suddenly raising his other hand. Bandic comments on his stand with the worn-down cliché “…there’s no love (meaning lasting devotion) in politics.” (HRT TV news 18 June 2016)

 

As to the findings of conflict of interest against Tomislav Karamarko, leader of HDZ, these do not seem to have shaken HDZ’s resolve to keep him at the party’s helm for the time being, except with a number of members including Tomislav Tolusic, regional development and EU funds minister, and a political cadaver Vladimir Seks, who I think should have retired from HDZ a long, long time ago. A prominent founding HDZ member and former minister of science and technology dr Ivica Kostovic said for HRT TV news Saturday 18 June that his “experience since he had entered into the government was that he met perhaps 1% of people who were not in a conflict of interest”. (HRT TV news 18 June 2016)

Zeljko Reiner President of Croatian Parliament In response to president's statement Says that HDZ may succeed in forming new government and that new elections may not be needed

Zeljko Reiner
President of Croatian Parliament
In response to president’s statement
Says that HDZ may succeed
in forming new government
and that new elections may not be needed

Indeed, being in conflict of interest seems to have been a dark legacy left from public office administration of former Yugoslavia. That, of course, does not excuse any continuance of operating with conflict of interest – it simply highlights the need to deal with it properly as cases arise and that seems to have been the spirit of Dr Kostovic’s comment.

 

 

Karamarko has wowed that he will take the Commission’s decision to the Administrative tribunal, as he believes he was not in conflict of interest as found by it. It would seem that the Commission had weighed against Karamarko a reported detail that he did not declare his wife’s business dealings with the Hungarian MOL at a reported government meeting, from which there are apparently no detailed minutes, when matter of arbitration regarding INA/MOL issue (i.e. taking back Croatian ownership prevalence in the company of national importance – INA) was discussed. But, reportedly he also did not participate in any decision-making at the said meeting, either. The latter then would raise some alarms regarding the credibility of the Commission’s decision itself. The Commission, as evidencing conflict of interest, reportedly also took into account Karamarko’s personal Facebook status, which said that he was personally committed to Croatia pulling out of arbitration with MOL!

 

Karamarko commented that his personal opinions are well known to the public but that he has never imposed them upon third persons. “I have never had a single meeting on the Government premises with the arbitration on the agenda … It’s possible that I have had meetings outside the Government with Josip Petrovic (MOL’s consultant) but INA and MOL have never been the topic of those meetings.”

Dalija Oreskovic Photo: Dalibor Urukalovic/Pixsell

Dalija Oreskovic
Photo: Dalibor Urukalovic/Pixsell

 

The Commission’s head, Dalija Oreskovic, commented that “Karamarko cannot separate his private opinions from himself as a public figure and that, in that sense, he fell into conflict of interest.” She added “he used his political influence in connection to his opinion about arbitration, so that the potential or possible conflict of interest in these personal opinions and public intercessions point to the finding that the official found himself in a situation where conflict of interest was realised…”

In defending himself against the motion of no confidence last Wednesday, Prime Minister Tihomir Oreskovic told the parliament that the real reason for his ouster was that he started resolving the dispute between INA and MOL, adding that someone was not pleased with it (evidently alluding to Karamarko). It will be interesting to see what the Administrative tribunal will decide regarding private vs public lives (opinions) of a public official. At this stage HDZ wants to reshuffle the government with a new prime minister (Zdravko Maric), with Karamarko remaining as the party leader and digging its heels in at this may work, but it also may not. Next week or so will show whether the worn-down cliché “there’s no love in politics” is actually a double-edged sword that can either damage or benefit HDZ’s efforts to survive in parliament without snap elections. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

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