Croatia: Election Debate Fizzer Spurs New Splinter Of Hope

Zoran Milanovic (L), Social Democrats/SDP Andrej Plenkovic (R), Croatian Democratic Union/HDZ

Zoran Milanovic (L), Social Democrats/SDP
Andrej Plenkovic (R), Croatian Democratic Union/HDZ

 

It was going to be the debate of a decade – Croatian media promised, building up high expectations and nail-biting anticipation for the televised debate held Friday 12 August 2016 between the leaders of the Croatian two biggest parties: Andrej Plenkovic/ HDZ/Croatian Democratic Union and Zoran Milanovic/SDP/Social Democratic Party. It was going to be the debate that would shift voters from either camp into the other and end the misery of the two parties seemingly being neck to neck for the upcoming election. It was going to be a hard debate on the issues of economic growth, employment and debts; highlighting the answers. Alas – a debate it was but one conducted between two seemingly personal friends who do not want to step on each other’s toes. No room for that in politics of a country riddled with all sorts of crises – political, economic, and ideological, if you ask me.

Walking away from this debate one could not shake off the nasty feeling that the coming ballot might not end the political deadlock, which usually ends in a minority government. A large number of undecided voters will be the key but if Croatia gets another hung parliament the likely kingmaker would once again be the reformist Most party, or Bridge, which despite numerous new independent smaller coalitions appearing like mushrooms after the rain, now has the support of about 10% of voters. Most/Bridge has proven to be a destructive force rather than the one capable of building and fortifying bridges into stable government.

Croatia needs decisive reforms to fix its fragile public finances, significantly improve the investment climate, spur bold growth and reduce public debt now standing at 86% of GDP. While we know from his last performance as Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic has no chance whatsoever in achieving these priority goals for Croatia, even with the political bubble-and-squeak coalitions he has concocted, it is at the same time difficult to ascertain from his seemingly measured, polite and controlled appearance last Friday whether Andrej Plenkovic of HDZ has got the skills and the oomph to make the outcomes for those goals happen for Croatia.

Milanovic, former prime minister of a government that almost ruined completely the economy, said Croatia needed a stable government and a safe direction for economic development. Milanovic has gathered around his SDP a coalition of all-shades-of-red and many a ranting political lunatics (including himself and the former president Stjepan Mesic who is re-entering politics out of furious revenge against conservative HDZ, who had in recent months cut his cushy benefits as former President) that can only announce to Croatia not stability but a meal of political bubble-and-squeak bound to turn Croatia into a state of fatal indigestion that blocks any progress of anything and in particular democratic ideology. He promised if in power his party would impose no new taxes and would strive to create more jobs for youth and invest more in education that would amount to 2% of the country’s gross domestic product.

Plenkovic refuted Milanovic’s idea of no new taxes, saying it was Milanovic who increased the value-added tax rate (Good and services tax) to 25% when he was the Prime Minister. He added HDZ would reduce the rate to 24% in second year of next government and by the end of the term to 23%. Meanwhile, the party would undertake the reform of the corporate and income taxes, he said.
So, both promised to lower the tax burden for citizens and businesses. But, 2017 is looking like a particularly challenging year financially; Croatia will need almost 30 billion Kuna (US$4.5 billion/4 billion Euro) just for refinancing bonds and interest payments.

Regarding debts, Milanovic said the previous HDZ government has left the government a huge budget deficit. He said it was during his term that Croatia for the first time ever had a positive balance of payments in the amount of 2% of the budget.

Plenkovic argued during Milanovic’s term, public debt has drastically increased, saying HDZ would reduce the debts with economic growth and using state-owned assets.
When questioned on employment, both of them pledged to encourage job creation but gave no specific plans.

Regarding how to deal with a possible new migrant crisis, Plenkovic said he believed there would be no new migrant wave. He said the problem of protecting external borders has been solved at the European Union level.

While Milanovic said his government did quite well last year on the refugee issue, SDP would act same way if there would be a new wave of refugees.

 

All in all, it appeared to me like in that fable: the mountain was roaring in labour, it thundered but in the end a mouse was born. The debate provided the audience with few barely superficial answers to pressing thundering crucial questions relating to the economic growth, unemployment and national debt even if the prelude did promise earth-shattering outcome from the debate and point the voters to a saviour new government.

The debate appeared more about who had performed the worst as government of the past: SDP or HDZ! Little was said about real and realistic solutions for the future that would help undecided voters make up their minds or, indeed, supporters of either jump ship and decide to support the other party. The TV host did try to provoke gently or prod the speakers so as to make the debate spring to life, be more spirited and stronger, even called the debate a conflict at one stage, which was fiercely negated by the two speakers, the debate was a right old fizzer.

The speakers left the impression that as far as any disagreements they may have on the important issues these were neither fundamental nor substantial, if at all existing.

Pero Barbaric Pepi (L) General Zeljko Glasnovic (C) ILija Cvitanovic (R)

Pero Barbaric Pepi (L)
General Zeljko Glasnovic (C)
Ilija Cvitanovic (R)

No wonder that almost immediately after this fizzer of a debate, which left the voter no clearer as to the direction Croatia must take in bettering its living standards and democratic processes, a leading HDZ politician, member of Croatian Parliament representing the diaspora, General Zeljko Glasnovic, made his final decision to abandon HDZ and file Saturday 13 August with the electoral commission his own ticket of independent candidatures for the diaspora (Croats living abroad) electorate. His rather surprising move appears to have echoed positively particularly there where it counts for him: among Croats abroad. Indeed, it was the Croats abroad without whom the creation of the modern independent state of Croatia would not have been possible. So while Friday’s debate between SDP and HDZ suggested much of what Croatia fought for had recklessly been watered down General Glasnovic’s move injected new hope for a strong and focused future. His motives to go separate ways from HDZ are attached to his vision about what according to him is best for Croatia, for Croatian diaspora, for Croats living in Bosnia and Herzegovina and for the Croatian Homeland War veterans.

As member of parliament Glasnovic championed and persisted with the need for Croatia to impose lustration and rid its key public administration and corporations of former communists – rid itself of elements that work against investments, business developments and cause mass emigration of young people who have no or very little prospects for gainful employment in Croatia.

Primarily, it was my conscience that moved me to this. I cannot and I do not want to be a ‘fig leaf’ for interest groups nor just another mute on the parliamentary benches,” said General Glasnovic in his press release Saturday 13 August regarding his bold move to split from HDZ.
If we want to survive as a nation we must set priority political goals… A quarter of a century has passed since the Homeland War and Croatia has still not successfully integrated its human and other available resources.
Why is Croatia remaining to be a dysfunctional state?
Interest groups whose primary interest lies in self-interest and not in the building of a functional and modern Croatian state have led Croatia for too long…
It’s scandalous that a Croat born outside Croatia needs about 3 years to receive Croatian citizenship. It’s also scandalous that people who have been destroying the Croatian state for decades still sit on the benches of our parliament and are present in all bodies of the government. Retroactive laws, which were supposed to reckon with business crime, war profiteering and with betrayal of national interests had never made it to the parliamentary proceedings. Academic and human resources lustration remain taboo topics in our society.
Without the establishment of a new value system Croatia will never experience a catharsis…”

And I couldn’t agree more – without a new value system that rejects and destroys every single and all spores of the former communist regime (or at least moves into a true return to the one announced in the speeches dr Franjo Tudjman delivered in 1990/1991), Croatia will forever struggle to complete the goals of full freedom and democracy it set out to achieve in 1990/1991 – democracy and prosperity. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

Croatia’s Conservative HDZ Say They Cannot Participate in Divvying-up Loot

Croatia's new government will come either as a result of political blackmail or new elections political blackmail

Croatia’s new government
will come either as a result of political blackmail
or new elections

 

A day two before Christmas 2015 Croatia just may be put out of misery and torture if the president announces new elections!

Ever since the 8 November 2015 general election results which gave no political coalition the majority needed to form a government Croatia’s political battlefield has taken on the dynamics of nothing less than the engrossingly dramatic and twisted TV series “Game of Thrones” (many episodes of which were actually filmed in Croatia). The Most or Bridge coalition, that holds the decisive number of seats with which a government could be formed with either the centre-right HDZ or the centre-left SDP, has through its leader Bozo Petrov been insisting on forming a tripartite government, combining both HDZ and SDP and having a non-party member – a professional – Prime Minister! I personally am not aware that being a Prime Minister was a profession one trained for and stayed in as a matter of career choice, but Petrov most likely means a person who is a proven professional in a recgonised and, hopefully, relevant field such as economy, business development, justice, law etc.
Whatever Petrov and the Bridge coalition mean it does not matter for it simply cannot work simply because democracy is much about different political persuasions competing for votes through offering better or competitive deals and better life to the citizens.

More important, Croatian hard-won democracy cannot and must not compromise itself by permitting such experiments as those insisted upon by the Bridge coalition.

Bozo Petrov, Bridge coalition Thinks everything will be solved within 24 hours of Saturday night!

Bozo Petrov, Bridge coalition
Thinks everything
will be solved within 24 hours of Saturday night!

Bozo Petrov and the Bridge coalition called second meeting on Saturday 19 December where all three party presidents (SDP’s Zoran Milanovic, The Bridge’s Bozo Petrov and HDZ’s Tomislav Karamarko) were supposed to iron out the details and announce the name of the new Prime Minister designate. Furthermore, ahead of the meeting Petrov announced that by Tuesday 22 December Croatia would either have a new government or an announcement for new elections. HDZ president, Tomislav Karamarko left the meeting just 10 minutes in.

HDZ President Tomislav Karamarko refuses to be blackmailed or forced into signing dodgy documents Refuses to join a tripartite government based on unclear framework and guidelines He prefers new elections to a government formed in less than clear or honest circumstances

HDZ President Tomislav Karamarko
refuses to be blackmailed or
forced into signing dodgy documents
Refuses to join a tripartite government
based on unclear framework and guidelines
He prefers new elections to a government formed
in less than clear or honest circumstances

Karamarko said he could not sign the document the Bridge coalition was asking both parties to sign and hence decided to leave and let Bridge and SDP continue with negotiations if they want to: “We believe this document is a messy and confusing coalition contract in which no mechanisms are set and there are too many unknowns. It all comes down to how to split the loot, distribute seats in public companies etc” he stated.

Judging from media reports SDP and the Bridge continued talks after HDZ president left the meeting, Bridge, by this act, seems to have ditched the idea of forming a tripartite government it tortured the Croatian public with during the past month. At the end of the meeting Petrov announced that HDZ was out of the race for the government now, since Karamarko refused to sign the document Bridge coalition prepared and considered essential for the formation of government.

SDP president Zoran Milanovic will do anything to stay in government within a week he turned from rejecting Bridge and tripartite idea outright to sucking up to Bridge in order to get a few government portfolios under a joint government with those he rejected outright days before! A political prostitute not to be trusted with Croatian democracy and freedom.

SDP president Zoran Milanovic
will do anything to stay in government
within a week he turned from rejecting Bridge
and tripartite idea outright
to sucking up to Bridge in order to get
a few government portfolios under
a joint government with those
he rejected outright days before!
A political prostitute not to be trusted
with Croatian democracy and freedom.

 

I hope we will have a designate Prime Minister by Tuesday” said Bozo Petrov stressing that HDZ is definitely out of the race now and that Bridge is still insisting that the designate Prime Minister be someone from their party or a non-party person – but must be a professional Prime Minister! Zoran Milanovic stated that SDP would insist that Prime Minister Delegate should be Bozo Petrov from Bridge coalition. Bozo Petrov, on the other hand, while appearing coy and negating he wants to be the next PM does reiterate whenever he can “Never say never”!
While at the end of Saturday’s meeting Petrov stated that “Everything will be solved within 24 hours”, one can expect one of the two possibilities:

  • Bridge will form a government with SDP/ Social democrats and eat its words in shame that they would only work with a tripartite government – the only condition under which their proposed sweeping reforms could be made;

or

  • Croatia is set for new elections sometime in January/February 2016.

 

Certainly, HDZ, the relative winner of majority seats at 8 November elections (but not enough to form a government), has been reported to favour new elections. I personally would support that for it’s not just me that am skeptical and cautious about the likelihood of a tripartite government – an all-inclusive government – where there is no shadow government, no opposition, no prospect of critique and positive advancement that can result from it. It would be such a victory for Croatian democracy if the president of Croatia Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic put an end to this shameful political blackmail torturing the Croatian public and evidently emanating from the Bridge coalition and put Croatia on the road to new elections quick-smart. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

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
PHOTO: R.FAJT/CROPIX

 

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)

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