Croatian General Election Preview: Expert Analysis from Kresimir Macan

By 22 June 2020

June 22, 2020 - The Croatian general election is less than two weeks away. Leading political commentator Kresimir Macan offers his thoughts in this pre-election preview.  

More questions than answers expected after July 5th, polling date in Croatia

Two weeks ahead of July 5th, the date set for the Croatian general election, everything seems more blurred than ever. Add to that the recent corona outbreak, and what looked like a clean reelection for Prime Minister Andrej Plenković could turn to a nightmare. His HDZ (Hrvatska demokratska zajednice) right party lags somewhat behind the broad left Restart coalition formed by SDP (Socijaldemokratska partija) and led by Davor Bernardić. Both parties will still need coalition partners to form a ruling majority and this is making things even more complex - or simpler - depending on the final outcome.

The State Electoral Commission (DIP) ( you can follow them on izbori.hr where the election results are to be expected too on July 5th after 19:00 when polling stations close) received 190 slates and 17 minority candidacies for the July 5 parliamentary election. More slates were submitted than four years ago but less candidacies for Constituency 12, where ethnic minorities elect their MPs. In 2016, 177 slates and 29 minority candidacies were submitted. A record 313 slates were submitted for the 2011 parliamentary election.

They published them on June 18th, which marked the beginning of the official election campaign period that will end on midnight of July 3rd, followed by a day of election silence.

At first glance, HDZ has a somewhat larger potential for a post-election coalition. Two other relevant political players are coming from the right spectrum. Miroslav Škoro, a former presidential candidate who came third in December’s presidential elections, leads the Homeland Movement (DP), while Božo Petrov leads MOST. They are both now in the conservative or far-right spectrum, while HDZ is trying to position itself from the center to the right, so forming coalition with any of them would mean some compromises. Škoro is already wanting to be Prime Minister, which was rejected immediately by Plenkovic, while both previous coalitions between MOST and HDZ ended in an ugly divorce, so nobody is ready for a third failure.

Miroslav Škoro and his conservative entourage also do not have an especially positive opinion about Plenković. They believe that Plenković is not authentic enough to serve either the interest of HDZ or of Croatia; rather they see him as a Brussels-oriented politician who is only at the disposition of his friends from the European Union. HDZ, on the other hand, are clearly pointing fingers at Škoro who they hold responsible for the loss of the presidential election when he invited his voters to cross their ballots and not vote for either Grabar Kitarović or Milanović.

SDP have formed a broad pre-election coalition called Restart with center-left parties and their leader, Davor Bernardić, publicly announced that he does not want to enter a post-election coalition with Škoro or MOST. Their strategy is clear – to secure as many seats in parliament - 65 preferably + 8 MP from minorities would bring them just 3 seats short of a 76 majority. Voters will elect 151 MPs, 140 in ten constituencies in Croatia, three will be elected by Croats residing abroad, and eight by ethnic minorities, thus making 76 MPs ruling majority.

We’ll see whether this is possible because two new blocks have emerged on the left and could take some planed seats from Restart, although is very likely that they could from a coalition together after the elections. MOŽEMO movement is formed around City of Zagreb MPs lead by Tomislav Tomašević and made a quick and effective campaign around the them of post-earthquake Zagreb and seem to be gaining some support recently. The other block are the center and liberal Pametno and Focus who joined forces with StrIP (Stranka s imenom i prezimenoom – Party with a name and surname) who gathered some strong names to lead their lists in Zagreb and Split and could also win several seats.

The leadership capabilities of both of the main leaders is a topic which is causing plenty of comment, with most leaning in favor of Plenkovic compared to Bernardic, so everybody is eagerly awaiting the personal TV debates in the last week before the elections. 

Pre-campaign polls (Crobarometar i Crodemoskop) suggest that Restart could win around 32%, while Možemo and the block around Pametno Focus and Strip, both are at 4%, close to the census of 5%. Other lists on the left are not likely to win any MPs, but could influence the final results by taking votes from these three blocks.

On the right HDZ could win around 31%, DP around 14% and Most is dancing on the edge of census of 5%.

If you model this to MP seats – it is very likely a win for Restart in Croatia ranging from 56:55 to 61:59 compared to HDZ. HDZ could win 2 extra MPs among Croats residing abroad, taking the lead eventually. They would depend on DP’s 15-20 mandate to from a ruling majority, while Restart should look for 3 to 5 mandates of Možemo and Pametno Focus Strip blocks. Most is expected to win 3-4 mandates. More on Macan's election analysis here.

Croatia is divided into 10 electoral units, each giving 14 MPs and it is very hard to model it without precise polls by electoral units that we can expect in the following days.

As far as themes of the campaign are considered HDZ is trying to get credit for the economic growth in the last four years, as well as management of crises from Agrokor to Covid-19 and the earthquake in Zagreb claiming that they are the guarantee of Safe Croatia (Sigurna Hrvatska). Restart on the other hand claim that this HDZ government was corrupt since so many ministers left it, claims that Croatia needs a new, fresh start and calls on voters to Come out and Change things (Izađi i promijeni). All this was shadowed with Miroslav Skoro's statements on abortion and woman rights, which triggered strong reactions from women. The only thing stronger than this could be rthe eturn of coronavirus in recent days. With only two weeks ahead it is very obvious that as of July 5, we could have more questions than answers.

For more election coverage, follow the TCN politics section