The International Institute for Middle-East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES) from Ljubljana, Slovenia, regularly analyses events in the Middle East and the Balkans. IFIMES has analysed the election campaign in the Republic of Croatia in the light of the forthcoming parliamentary election scheduled for 8 November 2015. The most relevant and interesting sections from the comprehensive research entitled “2015 parliamentary election in Croatia: The most uncertain election” are published below.
2015 parliamentary election in Croatia:
The most uncertain election
The IFIMES International Institute has prepared an analysis of current pre-election events in the Republic of Croatia in view of the 8th parliamentary election since the country proclaimed independence, scheduled for 8 November 2015.
Members of the Croatian Parliament are elected directly by secret ballot according to the proportional system whereby each party or candidate is entitled to the number of parliamentary mandates proportional to the number of votes obtained, with a 5% threshold. A total of 140 MPs are elected to the Parliament from 10 constituencies making up the territory of the Republic of Croatia, each constituency providing 14 MPs. This will be the first election with an introduced element of preferential voting.
166 electoral lists will compete at the election, of which 161 are registered by political parties and five by independent candidates. There will be a total of 2,311 candidates, of which 1,354 (58.59%) are men and 9574 (41.41%) women. The average age of the candidates is 42.5 years. The Republic of Croatia has around 4,4 million inhabitants of which 3,791,341 million are entitled to vote. 3,755,065 voters are Croatian residents of which 21.417 have registered in advance. In the Diaspora (Croat nationals not residing in Croatia) 36,276 have registered as active voters, most of them in Bosnia and Herzegovina (21,632), Germany (5,882), Serbia (1,040), Switzerland (922) and Austria (862). The Diaspora will vote in the 11th constituency, while the members of national minorities will be voting their eight representatives in the 12th constituency. The election campaign will last 15 days and 9 hours and will be the shortest campaign in the country's history.
In 2011 the incumbent government formed the so called Kukuriku coalition comprised of Social Democratic Party (SDP), Croatian People's Party (HNS), Istrian Democratic Assembly (IDS) and Croatian Party of Pensioners (HUS), and supported by national minorities representatives.
POLARISED POLITICAL SCENE
The political scene in Croatia is extremely polarised, with two strong political blocks (coalitions). The centre-right “Patriotic Coalition” is led by the opposition Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) and unites the HDZ, HSS, HSP AS, BUZ, ZDS, HDS, HSLS and Hrast political parties.
The Social Democratic Party (SDP) led centre-left “Croatia is Growing”coalition is composed of SDP, HNS, AHSS, Zagorje Party and Labour Party.
This political polarisation has turned into personal confrontation between coalition leaders Tomislav Karamarko (HDZ) and Zoran Milanović (SDP).
The Patriotic Coalition's programme entitled “5+ Croatia” is focused on economic growth, sustainable development and employment, health and social protection, legal stability as well as the social, demographic, educational and research fields. Its key goals are to increase the employment rate and stop emigration of citizens from Croatia.
In its programme the Croatia is Growingcoalition places the main stress on the following fields: economic growth and business environment, welfare and social issues, public sector, education, infrastructure, environmental protection and sustainable development, regional development and decentralisation. It has also emphasized the danger of HDZ coming to power, recalling its abusive, criminal and corruptive activities during the long years of its government and stressing the fact that HDZ is the only political party that stands criminal proceedings on corruption charges before court.
Besides the above main political blocks, the following minor parties could also play an important role: Istrian Democratic Assembly (IDS), Croatian Democratic Alliance of Slavonija and Baranja (HDSSB), Successful Croatia, the Party of Labour and Solidarity, Human Blockade, Most, Sustainable Development of Croatia (OraH) and national minorities representatives. Since a very narrow election result is anticipated between the two leading coalitions, other minor parties passing the threshold are expected to play an important role in forming the government which will give them an opportunity to put forward their demands. Based on the estimates made so far, Croatia is Growing has shown a somewhat larger capacity to form the coalition after the election. Of course it will be up to the President of the Republic of Croatia whom she will first entrust with the mandate to form the new government.
CRIMINAL, CORRUPTION, (UN)FREE MEDIA AND THE ECONOMY
Although the process of decriminalisation of Croatia has been taking place for several years, its results still haven't reached the necessary and expected levels. Organised crime and corruption are still the "cancerous wound" of Croatian society, while the media are only partly free.
According to Transparency International 2014 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) Croatia is ranked 61st of all together 174 countries, sharing its place with Ghana. According to the Freedom House assessment of media freedom (2015 World Press Freedom Index) Croatia ranks 58th among 180 countries and belongs to countries with partly free media. According to 2015 Economic Freedom Index published by Heritage Foundation and Wall Street Journal Croatia is the 84th among 178 countries, which is a serious signal that the country still needs a lot to do to improve its position.
Even the highest officials are connected with crime and corruption, including the prime minister, vice prime minister and some other ministers who are involved legal proceedings or serving prison sentences.
Ever since Croatia gained independence, all its governments – including the incumbent government led by Zoran Milanović(SDP) – have been unsuccessful in finding appropriate solutions to the accumulated economic and social problems. The government of Prime Minister Ivo Sanader (HDZ), whose member was also the incumbent Croatian President Kolinda Grabar Kitarović, is probably the most corrupt government, with seven of its ministers including Prime Minister Sanader being charged with crimes and corruption. This is still a heavy burden on Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) and its current election campaign, especially bearing in mind that HDZ is the only political party in Croatia that is being prosecuted for corruption. HDZ is still in the process of decriminalisation of both the party and its individual members.
AN ELECTION CAMPAIGN MARKED WITH PERSONAL INSULTS
The current election campaign has been marked with numerous insults, accusations, cases of disinformation and personal attacks, mostly between the two leading political blocks and their leaders Tomislav Karmarko and Zoran Milanović. This campaign is shorter than all previous campaigns and lacks clearly articulated political content and messages. Relevant researches have shown that the Croatian Diaspora and the Croats from Bosnia and Herzegovina are traditional supporters of HDZ.
Attitude towards anti-fascism still represents an issue of dispute among one part of Croatian society. HDZ has often shown a wrong understanding of anti-fascism; if it understood it correctly, it would safeguard its tradition instead of making statements that can sometimes be understood as neo-fascist behaviour. SDP still has not developed into a party advocating the deprived citizens of the Republic of Croatia, especially the workers.
IS CROATIAN SECULAR SOCIETY AT STAKE?
HDZ has not always benefited from the support of the Roman Catholic Church (RKC) and the latter's role in Croatian society. Religious education in schools, crucifixes in state offices, blessings of public investments etc. legitimately raise doubts regarding the separation of church and state in Croatia.The secularism of modern Croatia has been jeopardised by the dominant position of the Roman Catholic Church over other religious communities.Until 1945 a lot of property was confiscated from the Jews in Zagreb and from other private owners. However, unlike the Jews and other groups, the Roman Catholic Church has had almost all of its property returned. In their sermons representatives of the Roman Catholic Church advise the citizens on how to vote or who not to vote at elections, suggesting them not to vote for the left oriented parties. Cardinal Josip Bozanić wrote in his open letter that: “for a believer it is easy to decide who to vote. It is enough to choose the political option that is willing and able to defend human life from conception to natural death, that supports freedom of religion, understands marriage and family as a union of man and woman, respects and helps large families with several children, incorporates Christian and universal human values in upbringing and education instead of being guided by new ideologies that represent a serious threat to Croatia, shows respect of the important institutions of the state and society, and responds appropriately to complaints of Croatian war veterans, which all shows that it will promote economic progress and general wellbeing instead of following narrow party and personal interests and that it has the will and the power to unite the Croats in Croatia and abroad”.
Facing the economic collapse Croatia will undoubtedly no longer be able to fulfil enormous financial obligations arising from the agreement with the Holy See, which means it will have to redefine its agreement with Vatican.
As elections are regarded primarily as Croatia's internal political issue, HDZ can not benefit from the support shown by German Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) and other reputable European right-oriented politicians (EPP), just as SDP can not benefit from the support of European Social Democrats (S&D).
CROATIA IS FACING BANKRUPTCY
Croatia's public debt has exceeded the permitted ceiling of 80% of GDP. Croatia is facing a deep crisis. It relies on the three main sources for covering the deficit: tourism, transfers from Croats living abroad and the sale of its immovable property. However, economists recall that tourism is a very vulnerable sector which can be negatively affected by the economic crisis, the current refugee crisis, climatic or political circumstances as well as instability and the presence of terrorism in the region.
WHAT KIND OF GOVERNMENT DOES CROATIA NEED?
Analysts have noted that Croatia needs a government that is not burdened with any extremist left or right ideology but instead aims to unite the nation and achieve general social consensus for numerous urgent reforms as well as to regain citizens' trust in politics and state institutions. It is of great importance that the new government strives to reach national reconciliation regarding the issues from World War II (1941-45) and the recent Homeland War (1991-95). It is too late now for any lustration – 25 years after the implementation of the multiparty system in Croatia such processes would be harmful and probably misused for narrow political goals.
Unification and cooperation between different political actors with the aim to bring Croatia out of the economic crisis, achieve economic prosperity and reduce unemployment especially among the young generation are the fields in which the President of the Republic of Croatia can play the key role.
During the campaign some political groups and individual candidates have tried to manipulate patriotic issues for their own gain. Bearing in mind that patriotism has often been used as a veil for criminal activities and for plundering the national (state) property, it is urgent to redefine the role of patriotism in Croatian society.
The time has come to stop with the period of romantic nationalism in Croatia – the Croats have created their own country, but now they have to ensure its future for the next generations. The new government will have to deal with numerous problems. The politics that stress historical divisions among the Croats will bring the country back into the past, but what Croatia needs now is the future. Many other nations also have their historical divisions and traumas, but they rarely stress the past at the expense of their future, as has been the case in Croatia. This kind of politics is leading the country into dangerous ideological divisions and permanent debt slavery due to irresponsible borrowing and uncontrolled spending decisions taken by the previous governments. The primary goal should be to improve the competitiveness of Croatian economy, as this will resolve many other problems.
Experts agree that Croatia needs constitutional changes, but their opinions diverge when it comes to the content and extent of those changes.
THE MOST UNCERTAIN ELECTION
Milanović has tried to benefit from the current refugee crisis, having estimated that people without the right to vote (refugees) could influence the election results. Withdrawal from the Arbitration Agreement on Croatian-Slovenian border was another attempt to increase his patriotic rhetoric and show that HDZ is not the only party entitled to promote patriotism. He used his verbal conflict with Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić (SNS) to make a strategic move in the election race. Similarly, but with less intensity, Milanović has capitalised on his verbal conflict with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán (Fidesz). Analysts have estimated that Milanović is trying to be a right-oriented politician with social-democratic aspirations. Relations with the neighbouring states will be a challenge and a test for the new Croatian government, bearing in mind that the country has only regulated its border with Hungary while the borders with Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Montenegro are still undefined and it has no border agreements signed with those countries. The announced construction of the Pelješac bridge that would connect Croatia with its Dubrovnik region over the island of Pelješac, bypassing a stretch of land at Neum, Bosnia and Herzegovina's only outlet to the sea, could seriously jeopardise Croatia's relations with this country.
Researches have shown that the leading political coalitions (Patriotic Coalition and Croatia is Growing) anticipate a very narrow result at the upcoming parliamentary election and that the relative winner will be decided in the final part of the campaign. A lot would depend on eventual television confrontation between the two coalition leaders Karamarko and Milanović. Additional mobilisation of voters by both leading political coalitions in the last moments of the campaign could prevent many small political parties from passing the 5% election threshold.
Representatives of national minorities could eventually tip the scales during the post-election formation of the coalition for the new government.
Ljubljana, 5 November 2015