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)

Croatia Bracing For Electoral Tug of War

President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic Announcing Croatian General Elections Photo: Screenshot 5 October 2015

President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic
Announcing Croatian General Elections
Photo: Screenshot 5 October 2015

On 8 November 2015, Croats will for the first time ever get a taste of a preferential voting system in their parliamentary elections. Voters will be able to circle the name of their preferred candidate on the List they vote for. Preferential votes will be valid for those candidates who receive at least 10% of the List total vote. Voter turnout hasn’t been great in the past and one wonders whether the newly installed preferential voting together with President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic’s appeal to the nation, particularly to the young and those who have stayed away from casting their vote at past elections, to vote and thus partake in the decision for the country’s future would change for the better the voter turnout on 8 November?
The fate of our Croatia will be in your hands on that day,” said president Grabar-Kitarovic in her televised announcement of the date for 2015 general elections. “That is the day when the politicians are accountable to you and when democracy takes on its full sense. Having that in mind I invite you to attentively follow what the candidates are offering, what are their programs like and how they will affect your everyday lives for the next four years. I especially wish to invite the youngest voters and those who are voting for the first time. Do not allow others to choose for you. Croatia needs your fresh outlook and your participation in the most important act of democracy … Come out to vote, utilise your right and take ownership of responsibility…”

Although president Grabar-Kitarovic has in the same televised appearance called for the politicians and candidates to steer away from turning the election campaigns into “carnival of democracy”, to behave with political correctness, leave the “ashes of the past” behind and look at ways of creating a better future with joint efforts, the fact remains that all candidates, all political parties are in the race to win seats in parliament, to carry significant clout in a future government.

The president has also asked the media to use its potent influence on shaping attitudes responsibly and contribute ethically to the strengthening of social responsibility.

The way the political pre-election platforms have ignited in Croatia during the past months tells us that Croatia has failed to produce a strong third political option and Croatian government contenders are firmly standing at two camps, and the smaller political satellites if they have not already entered into a coalition with a bigger party will just fit in with whoever wins.


Croatia is nowhere near hammering nails into the coffin of the two party politics and helping new coalitions, alliances and horse-trading bloom even if there are a few emerging forces (Orah, the Reformists, Milan Bandic 365, the Bridge…) that could possibly steal notable thunder from the ruling Social Democrats/SDP (centre left) and the largest opposition Croatian Democratic Union/HDZ (Conservative/ centre right). To hammer nails into the coffin of the two party politics Croatian voters will need to develop into what President Grabar-Kitarovic recommends: look at what candidates are offering you; look at their programs. Sadly, the Croatian votes are still driven by “being against” rather than “being for” when casting their vote. Being for or against what communist Yugoslavia was and being for or against what Franjo Tudjman led (independence) still seem to sit at the back of the voter minds with SDP backers being those who are fighting against coming clean with communist crimes of the past even though they are increasingly thumping their chests with gestures of Croatian patriotism. These ashes from the past are difficult to sweep away and feed the fire of two party politics; feed the “against” vote as opposed the “for” one. It still seems easier for Croatian voters to say “I’m against him, them…” than “I’m for this and that…(program)”.
Croatian voters will decide on 8 November whether the current Social Democrat led government will enter a second mandate or whether Croatian Democratic Union/HDZ – led coalition will get a mandate and a chance to demonstrate that its slogan “Growth-Development-Employment” is actually different from similar striving other political parties are promising at elections and will bring positive results as opposed to empty promises that stem from a seemingly economic impasse.

Electoral polling in Croatia 4 October 2015 Photo: Hina

Electoral polling in Croatia
4 October 2015
Photo: Hina

Neither of the two major parties, SDP and HDZ, is expected to win enough seats, the 76 seats out of 151 needed to govern alone. They are teaming up with smaller parties instead and much will depend on which smaller parties have the best chance at local electorate to win power. This formula seems particularly important given that latest opinion polls, according to the Croatian news agency HINA, place Social Democrats and Croatian Democratic Union almost neck and neck – were the elections to be held beginning October the Social Democrats coalition would get 31.9% of the vote while Croatian Democratic Union and coalition would scoop 32.9% of the vote. In attempts to predict the election outcome the situation becomes more complex when one considers that both the leader of the Croatian Democratic Union (Tomislav Karamarko) and the leader of Social Democrats (Zoran Milanovic) are through opinion polls considered as the most negative politicians in Croatia.

The above polls seem to suggest that Croatia is in a de facto multi-party system when it comes to parliamentary elections, although the third option is still in tatters and competing egos. A third vote Conservative, a third vote Left wing, a third vote somebody else. That somebody else in more cases than not is a historical splinter from either HDZ or SDP and suffers from bad cases of inflated  political egos which see no unity on the horizon. These opinion polls figures may not be counted on as projecting the general elections results in any certain terms but they do suggest that Croatia is bracing for another tug of war during elections where the number of voters against the other main party will decide who wins. The third option, that somebody else, is far too disjointed in terms of being a more or less homogeneous political body to pose a real threat to either HDZ or SDP, but picking out supporting threads from it will be the stuff that will most likely define the majority seat winner at November elections.

If you are planning to cast your vote for the future of Croatia on 8 November, wherever you are – do not forget to register to vote! I believe registrations close 28 October 2015. Voters living abroad should contact the nearest Croatian consular-diplomatic mission and obtain form or simply information how to register to vote. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

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