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Elections in Croatia, outcome uncertain / Croatia / areas / Home

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Elections in Croatia, outcome uncertain / Croatia / areas / Home

On Wednesday 17 April, Croatia will vote for the renewal of parliament: the challenge is between the outgoing prime minister and leader of the ruling HDZ party, Andrej Plenković, and the head of state Zoran Milanović. The polls show the HDZ in the lead but with insufficient numbers to govern alone

We have arrived on the eve of the Croatian legislative elections, after a very short electoral campaign, but full of twists and turns. On Wednesday 17 April there will be a vote to renew the Sabor, the Zagreb parliament, and the challenge between the Croatian Democratic Union (Hdz, right) and the “Rijeke pravde” (Rivers of Justice) coalition led by the Social Democratic Party (Sdp, centre-left ) is, according to the latest polls, very open.

Plenković contro Milanović

The stakes are very high. On the one hand, Prime Minister Andrej Plenković (Hdz) is running for a third mandate. If he wins, he would cement a position of power that he has controlled since 2016, i.e. before Trump’s victory in the USA, the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union and before the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Plenković is considered a moderate conservative, but his two mandates were punctuated by corruption and nepotism scandals, so much so that in eight years he had to replace as many as thirty ministers and undersecretaries who ended up in the trap of justice. From the point of view of foreign policy, the current prime minister is what can be called a safe second-hand: pro-European, Atlanticist, he has built excellent relations in recent years especially within the EU and has achieved the double objective of Schengen in 2023 and the euro.

None other than the President of the Republic Zoran Milanović, elected in 2020 as an SDP, took the field against Plenković. Despite the role he holds requires him to be “super partes”, the head of state entered the political arena without resigning.

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Milanović was already prime minister from 2011 to 2016, but his communication style has changed a lot since then. There are those who consider him a “Croatian Trump” due to his abrasive statements, those “an agent of chaos”, as 24Sata columnist Tomislav Klauški told me in an interview, especially due to his decision to run for prime minister without resigning. Finally, there are those who consider him a champion of the fight against corruption, the only one capable of freeing the country from the yoke of HDZ, Franjo Tuđman’s party in power almost continuously since 1991.

In foreign policy, Milanovic is an unknown. He is a friend of Viktor Orban and Milorad Dodik, does not spare attacks on the European Union and NATO and has defined the conflict in Ukraine as “an American war”.

In short, it is not surprising that even for left-wing voters, who would traditionally vote for an SDP prime minister candidate, these elections pose more than a few headaches. And that’s not all. Even once you have made your choice between HDZ and SDP (or one of the other minor parties that we will see later), the outcome is not at all certain. In fact, according to the polls, neither the HDZ nor the SDP will have a majority in parliament. Which post-election alliance will govern Croatia then?

Polls and coalitions

In the age of social media and of artificial intelligence , election polls are popping up everywhere. In the chaos of forecasts announcing the composition of Sabor, however, there are trends that repeat themselves.

The first point common to all the polls is that HDZ is ahead. Out of a total of 150 seats in the Zagreb parliament, of which 3 are reserved for the diaspora (usually all go to the HDZ) and 8 for national minorities (traditionally pro-government), Prime Minister Plenković’s party should obtain around 60 deputies.

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The progressive coalition “Rijeka pravde” would stop between 41 and 44, while the Patriotic Movement (Domovinski pokret, far right) would come in third position with 14-15 representatives. This is followed by Možemo, the green and progressive platform that since 2021 has controlled the municipality of Zagreb (9-11 seats), the conservative Catholic party Most (9), the Istrian Democratic Diet (2) and other smaller parties with only one representative. To govern, you need to secure the support of 76 deputies.

According to politicians’ statements, no one (except minorities) is ready to ally with the HDZ to form a new government. “However, it is not difficult to imagine that Plenković directly convinces the few deputies he will need without entering into negotiations with the parties,” points out Tomislav Klauški.

If the polls were right, the prime minister could count on 60 deputies plus 11 (diaspora and minorities). Five more would be enough to reach a majority. Then there is the scenario of an alliance between the HDZ and another right-wing party, such as Most (a former ally in the past) or the Patriotic Movement (born from an offshoot of the HDZ).

And on the left? If the SDP were to come first – or if the head of state Milanović were to decide to give the exploratory mandate to “his” coalition anyway (it would be a serious disgrace, but the Croatian constitution does not specify which party should have priority) – the dialogue it would be more natural with Možemo, but this may not be enough. Milanović has already proposed a government of all against HDZ. But the idea of ​​an alliance with the far right is already arousing discontent.

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Which Croatia?

The Croatian parliament was dissolved on March 14th by decision of the Prime Minister and the elections were called by the President of the Republic for April 17th, just thirty days later, the minimum allowed by the constitution. The campaign was therefore very short and entirely centered around the surprise candidacy of the head of state and therefore the Plenković-Milanović duel.

The debate on the future of Croatia therefore became much thinner during the campaign. Plenković focuses on stability, on the increase in salaries in recent years and on the fact that, in his opinion, “Croatians have never been better”. In reality, the Croatians have many reasons to complain. From the emigration that is bleeding the country and making the importance of manpower necessary for all sectors to the increase in prices which has made a country already expensive for tourists, very expensive for residents.

On the other hand, however, Milanović above all rides the desire to make a clean sweep of the HDZ, eradicating corruption and nepotism to start from scratch. But in what direction? A former centre-left prime minister, in recent years Zoran Milanović has spoken much more often to the right-wing electorate, not disdaining attacks on migrants and positions in favor of Croatian war criminals.

In short, the result of Wednesday’s elections will tell us whether the leap into the unknown is more tempting or more frightening for Croatians.

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