Croatian Elections: Don’t Let The Patriotic Fire Go Out

 

Croatian General Elections 2015: 2311 Candidates - 166 Lists!

Croatian General Elections 2015:
2311 Candidates – 166 Lists!

Croatia, like most other democratic countries, is well entrenched in the era of multi-party political coalitions and these have, particularly since early-2000’s become the norm rather than the exception. Long gone are the days when one party or two-party coalition could secure the government or majority seats in the Parliament. The era of multi-party politics, government and coalitions is here and the days of exclusive manifestos, majorities and the domination of the traditional parties is at an end and that, it would seem, is a natural development within a democracy where the right to opinion and view inevitably gives rise to differences unsustainable within a single party or even a multi-party coalition. We are witnessing more and more parties competing for the votes from people concerned about fairness and social justice. 2015 General Elections due on 8 November in Croatia will have 2311 candidates from 161 political party lists and 5 independent – 957 or 41.41% women candidates. This year’s political coalitions indicate that the need to increase the number of political parties in a single coalition has grown since 2011 elections and is painting a scenario of polarising voter body into two almost equally large parts, with trickles of independents or brand new parties trying to win a seat or two. The big surprise in 2014/2015, however, is that the Croatian political environment seemed as if it was entering an era of third options, moving away from its two-party tradition, but rather went to a two-coalition tradition after the bubble of new parties burst.
The road to a minority government seems almost a certain political fate for Croatia in November 2015 as two large political coalitions (each with their own voter support) take to the public arena, unless at least a little bit tectonic shift occurs in the voter corpus of either centre-left/Liberal or centre-right Conservative coalitions towards the other, or, all political parties with similar designs on outcomes have in fact entered the same coalition and there is no cross-contamination of political character between the two coalitions.
In loose terms, generally, the Left oriented political platform believes the role of the government should be to guarantee that no one is in need and Liberal policies generally emphasize the need for the government to solve problems – something that was the back-bone of the failed communism and socialism of former Yugoslavia. The Right oriented political platform believes the role of government should be to provide people the freedom necessary to pursue their own goals and Conservative policies generally emphasize empowerment of the individual to solve problems.

 

In its election campaigning the Social Democrat led coalition decided to show results that Croatia’s economy is growing; indicators are, albeit flimsily, positive for the second quarter in a row and they are pressing on with the rhetoric: let us finish what we started. With this they continue with their focus on no-holds-barred allegations that there is corruption in the Croatian Democratic Union/HDZ, which leads the Conservative coalition, hence coming up with another slogan or rhetoric “There’s no turning back to the old ways”. The Social Democrats led coalition has huddled around the slogan “Croatia is Growing” – trying, among other trajectories, to portray to the voters that the economy is getting stronger and it will support them without the need for austerity or increase in unemployment and poverty, threat of which hover with stark reality and likelihood over everyone’s heads. Hence, feeding a continuance of certain dependence upon government and its performance, which by the way has been appalling under the Social Democrats’ led government.

 

 

Croatian Democratic Union/HDZ was quick to seriously dampen and dash any high-hopes of a better living standard under a Social Democrats led government. HDZ was quick to point out that what is indeed growing is Croatia’s debt, which has reached 290 billion kuna, the number of indebted people with frozen bank accounts, the number of citizens leaving the country in search of a livelihood, the number of small businesses and family farms that have been shut down, the number of people queuing in front of soup kitchens, the loss of jobs and the drop in living standards during the term of Social Democrat led government.

 

Croatian economy is not much better than the Greek and all know that drastic changes will need to be made to bring the economy to a positive trend, which in turn has an effect in bettering the citizens’ daily existence. Social Democrats have taken a populist approach to elections by injecting an air of enthusiasm for a quick and painless fix of dire economic woes under their government that “Croatia is growing” slogan suggests.
Croatian Democratic Union/HDZ has opted to concentrate on patriotism as the main mind-frame that will win them government and has resoundingly named its coalition “Patriotic Coalition” (or rather Homeland-loving coalition) with the slogan “For a Strong Croatia”. Certainly, while prudently not relying on the current economic trends as any sort of promise for the future HDZ has aptly and ably managed to show the weaknesses and downfalls of the current Social Democrat led government in its handling of the economy and its possible recovery and looks to see this translate into some defection of voters from the left side to theirs. In this HDZ demonstrates sound knowledge and needed skills of perception that could lead Croatia into having a stable government under HDZ’s leadership. Stability is also a very important characteristic of patriotism, which in turn nurtures the sentiments of safety and support.
Indeed, patriotism does not divide (as left-oriented politicians in Croatia have wickedly tried to convince people) – it unifies. Patriotism with all the passions that ignites can bond people together for good purpose or it can be the last refuge of a scoundrel but first and foremost, voting is an act of patriotism.
Elections are the epitome of patriotic expression. You cannot have a republic or a democracy without participants who can freely speak through voting. This election is no exception but it has been dubbed as one of the most crucial elections in Croatia’s relatively young democracy. The disquieting hue in the apparently widespread sentiment is that if Social Democrat led coalition wins Croatia will be lost. The other side of that coin is that Croatia has its only chance of survival if HDZ or Croatian Democratic Union led coalition wins government on 8 November.

croatian independence
Independent Croatia founders (which did not include the Communist League from which Social Democrats sprung) designed democratic Croatia in which people would speak freely through voting. Their objective was to replace Communist Party dictates with representation in parliament. I think anyone who does not vote falls short of being a true patriotic Croat. The Communist League walked out of the Croatian Parliament in 1991 when the Parliament announced its about to vote for Croatia’s secession from communist Yugoslavia and it remains to be seen whether an increased number voters who have been loyal to the left will on 8 November recognise the fact that Social Democrats force-feed themselves with notions of Croatian patriotism while not lifting a finger to denounce and condemn the former Yugoslav communist rule – and vote against them. Will they recognise the reality that Croatia cannot move further into a complete state of well-being unless it completely sheds and shatters the remnants of communist Yugoslavia.

 

Patriotism is defined by the Webster Dictionary as “a zealous love of one’s country”, while the Oxford Dictionary defined it as “devotion to one’s country and concern for its defence”.
The definition of being a patriotic Croat is to show love and loyalty to Croatia and of all the signs and activities that lead to calling oneself patriotic – voting stands alone as the most important civic action citizens can take part in to win the right to call themselves “patriotic.”

 

Political coalitions would do well to remember that it is not merely difference in opinion (or slogans) but strength in opinion that usually characterises party support. Cast-iron promises are not what the voters will be looking at in Croatia – history knows political promises are made to be broken – but, if savvy enough, they will be looking at coalition negotiations, anticipating give and take flows that could affect their own lives. HDZ’s leader Tomislav Karamarko has promised the Croats a passage through the valley of tears, meaning the heavy and painful reforms that a number of consecutive governments have been postponing, hence resulting in comparison between Croatia and Greece. Zoran Milanović on the other hand, who has so far positioned himself as an austerity-oriented, has quickly and loudly untied the purse strings promising Christmas bonuses to pensioners (it cannot afford) and better days ahead, although Croatia is in an excessive deficit and suffocating under debt. Definitely, to my view – Zoran Milanovic reminds us of Yugoslavia’s Josip Broz Tito whose seeming political success thrived on borrowed money, on other people’s money. The difference is, nevertheless, that Zoran Milanovic lives and acts in times when single political parties have no decisive power and the homeland is becoming the ultimate asset worthwhile having – not political parties. In the end, the results of the general elections in Croatia will come down to whether the love for Croatia is a force that wins the elections and sets Croatia on the final leg of its originally desired freedom and prosperity. After 25 years – it’s time! 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 dnevnik.hr 5 October 2015

President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic
Announcing Croatian General Elections
Photo: Screenshot vijesti.hr 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)

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

Zoran Milanovic Croatian Prime Minister and Leader of Social Democrats

Zoran Milanovic
Croatian Prime Minister and
Leader of Social Democrats

 

2015 will most likely see the seventh parliamentary elections since the parliament was inaugurated in May 1990. If it doesn’t, then the beginning of 2016 will. In an analogy with a relationship between a man and a woman, if I think of each parliamentary mandate as representing one year in the relationship between the people and the government then, as far as general elections are concerned in Croatia, we are in the year of the so-called “seven year itch”. That’s a time known as a time of potential crisis when one is said to traditionally take stock of one’s relationship and decides whether it’s what one really wants or not.

What has this got to do with Croatian elections, you might ask? Well – everything, I think.
Croatian electorate is split and voter crisis is looming. Time is likely to arrive when some (perhaps a significant number in election results term) traditionally left-voters will turn right and vice versa.

The left oriented Social Democrats that lead the current government and the right oriented Croatian Democratic Union that leads the opposition, with their coalition partner parties, are splitting the electorate virtually into two equal halves. Leaders of both – Zoran Milanovic/Social Democrats and Timislav Karamarko/Croatian Democratic Union – have come out equally as “the most negative” politicians in some opinion polls over the past several months. Both sides of politics attract demons from their governing past blamed for the critical state of the economy and the increasing poverty.

 

It would seem that the Social Democrats have recognised the looming election results crisis where results between two leading parties will be so close that even a handful of single votes (swinging votes) will make the difference between loss and victory and are set to tip their sights onto the conservative side of political orientation in order to attempt winning over some of the traditionally conservative voters. On Saturday, 8 August 2015, Social Democrats with their leader Zoran Milanovic have announced and indicated to their intention of forming a coalition or starting some form of (electoral) cooperation with the Authentic Croatian Peasant Party – a socially conservative party that bases its foundations on the work of Croatia’s great leader Stjepan Radic (shot in 1928 in parliament in Serbia by Serb nationalist as representative of Croatia and died from the wounds days later).
While the reaction from the Authentic Croatian Peasant Party to this Social Democrat idea has so far been one of irony – such as its president Branko Hrg saying “the way he has started, Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic might become a member of some right-wing option…if the hunt for small political parties is so great then there must be panic within the governing coalition…” – one cannot discount as electorally insignificant the Social Democrat government minister and Deputy Prime Minister laying a wreath on Friday, with much media pomp and ceremony – at Stjepan Radic’s tomb for the 87th anniversary of his death.

 

 

Tomislav Karamarko Leader of HDZ Croatian Democratic Union

Tomislav Karamarko
Leader of HDZ
Croatian Democratic Union

Tomislav Karamarko, leader of Croatian Democratic Union, has commented on this Social Democrats’ stepping into the traditionally conservative, right-winged political terrain, as “an expression of nervousness and insecurities of HDZ’s and its coalitions’ political opponents…”.

Indeed that may be so, SDP may be nervous, but judging by the palpable polarisation within the Croatian electorate (50-50 almost) between left and right, it stands to reason that in order to win at the next elections a political party vying for office must consider more aggressively the issues that affect the entire electorate rather than predominantly those that affect the part of the electorate sympathetic to it! And that may well be what the Social Democrats are doing: getting closer to the other side (?). If that is so and if they are “nervous and insecure” then their moves towards the conservative terrain could in fact be seen by some as “fight” not “flight”. If they succeed in getting even a minor party from the conservative side into their coalition then Social Democrats may be perceived in a positive light as “fighters” to stay in power. This positive light may translate into positive votes.

The job for Croatian Democratic Union will then be to demonstrate to the electorate how “a wolf (Social Democrats) loses its fur but never its habits”! How superficial and insincere any coalition of former/current Yugoslav communists is with any political party whose history rests on relentless rejection of any form of domination within any form of Yugoslavia (of Serb-monarchy or Yugoslav communist).
Many will say that voters fail to vote because they are not well enough informed or concerned and major party may count on that so that party-loyal voter-recruitment becomes optimally effective upon the final election result.
In a democracy, responsible voters, however, evaluate what has been done or what has happened in the past four years and make judgments. And I would like to think that the democracy in Croatia has reached such an advanced stage where the voters are concerned with results (of government work) only, not with policy promises. Human beings simply find it easier to look at what has gone on in the past to see what may happen in the future.
A rational voter only needs to know ‘if the shoe is pinching’; and, if so, who is causing it to pinch,” said once the reputable American political scientist Valdimer O. Key.

Social Democrats in Croatia are only too aware that they are the ones whose government is causing “the shoe to pinch”. Unemployment is horrendous, young people leaving Croatia in search for jobs in record and alarming numbers; investment climate hopeless due to rigid red tape and bureaucracy; homelessness and poverty on the rise to distressing levels…politically divided population where anger and discontent against those underplaying Croatian interests in the face of communist-Yugoslavia-nostalgia is often the issue causing unrest. Perceived inadequacy in political leaders to defend the Croatian truth and Croatia’s suffering at the hands of Serb aggressor in the 1990’s still occupies much of the circumstances that will surround and populate the coming election climate. Social Democrats’ attempts to encroach through various forms of coalition or cooperation upon the politically conservative territory is not to be taken lightly, or dismissed as some kind of a political whim without possible consequence. Such attempts do have the potential of causing voters to swing even if only because of some minor gesture from a politician that may touch their “voting” heart – swinging voters or those susceptible to opinion change are the fodder for political scavengers.

 
Certainly, with the electorate split almost in equal halves between Croatian Democratic Union/HDZ and Social Democrat support (and this was clearly demonstrated at the presidential elections in January 2015 when victory came at a rather nail-bitingly narrow margin), assuming the same number of voter turnout, swinging voters or those who can be convinced to vote differently will rein in the next government of Croatia. The swinging voter will be moved to vote by how he/she thinks a political ideology (election program) will affect him/her and his/her family. Ideology is of little consequence to a swinging voter and these are increasingly growing in number as Croatia progresses deeper into democratic reality. The times have come when elections are about real values that translate into real lives, better living standards. Much work for election success still lies ahead for political parties in Croatia. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

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