Sunday, 5 January 2020

Polling Stations Open in Presidential Runoff in Croatia

ZAGREB, January 5, 2020 - Polling stations opened across Croatia at 7 a.m. Sunday in the presidential runoff in which 3,860,000 eligible voters are choosing between incumbent Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović, supported by the ruling Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), and former prime minister Zoran Milanović, the candidate of the opposition Social Democrats (SDP).

Election silence went into force at midnight on Friday and ends at 7 p.m. today when polling stations close.

As in the first round of the vote on December 22, there are 6,533 polling stations, of which 6,409 in Croatia and 124 in 47 foreign countries, including 44 in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Polling stations in Eastern Australia opened first, at 9 p.m. on Saturday Croatian time, while those in Los Angeles will be the last to open, at 4 p.m. on Sunday Croatian time.

A record 24,333 observers will oversee the runoff of Croatia's seventh presidential election, including over 14,000 from the HDZ and nearly 9,000 from the SDP.

The State Electoral Commission will release the first results at 8 p.m. today.

Eleven candidates ran in the first round, with Milanović winning 29.6% of the vote and Grabar-Kitarovič 26.4%. The turnout 14 days ago was 51.19%

More news about the presidential elections can be found in the Politics section.

Thursday, 2 January 2020

GONG Urges Government to Organise Polling Stations in Hospitals, Retirement Homes

ZAGREB, January 2, 2020 - The GONG election monitoring NGO on Thursday called on the government to enable elderly and ill citizens to exercise their electoral right by amending the legislation whereby polling booths can be set up in all hospitals and retirement homes as well as organising the possibility of voting from home for disabled citizens.

"We call on the government to urgently resolve the problem of discrimination against voters who are not able to access polling stations and to better regulate voting at special polling stations, by introducing regulations regarding various ways of facilitating the voting process as a legal obligation," GONG said in a press release.

The NGO warned that the elderly and ill must not be treated as second-class citizens.

Several dozen elderly, ill, and disabled voters sent complaints to GONG saying that they could not exercise their right to vote in the first round of the presidential election.

Under the Constitution voters, who happen to be at hospitals treatment on the day of an election, have general and equal voting rights. However, as the law does not foresee voting in hospitals those citizens have been deprived of their constitutional right to vote, GONG warned.

The NGO underlines that only a portion of citizens living in retirement homes have been enabled to vote in elections.

More news about elections can be found in the Politics section.

Thursday, 2 January 2020

70,000 Eligible Voters to Be Outside Croatia for Skiing on Election Day

ZAGREB, January 2, 2020 - As many as 70,000 eligible voters will be outside Croatia on their skiing holidays on 5 January when the country holds a presidential runoff election and only 5,095 of them have registered themselves for voting outside their place of residence, the Jutarnji List daily said in its issue on Thursday.

The data about the number of Croatian skiers outside the country on 5 January was collected from travel agencies that organise winter travel arrangements. They show that about 110,000 Croatians could be on their skiing holidays next weekend, and of them a third are underage children who cannot vote in elections, which means that 70,000-80,000 are eligible voters.

The Public Administration Ministry and the State Election Commission (DIP) say that 5,095 voters have requested a certificate for voting outside the place of permanent residence.

The data was used by the daily to estimate how many skiers are likely to "abstain" from voting in the second round of the presidential elections in which the incumbent president Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović seeks her reelection and her rival is former Prime Minister and Social Democrat leader Zoran Milanović.

Thus, the daily newspaper concludes that a rough calculation suggests that 65,000 Croatians will not go to polling stations because of their winter holidays.

The daily recalls that five years ago when a runoff included the then incumbent president Ivo Josipovic (SDP) and Grabar Kitarović as the contender, also 4,876 voters had been given certificates for voting outside their place of residence.

During the 11 January 2015 runoff, Kitarović garnered 50.74% of the vote, that is 1,114,945 ballots, while her predecessor Josipovic won 49.26% (1,082,436 ballots), which means that she won 32,509 votes more than Josipovic.

Therefore, it is no wonder that since the start of the election campaign, Milanović has been complaining about the dates for the presidential election process, as he believes that the absence of that portion of the electorate could impact the final result in the probably cliffhanger presidential election runoff.

More news about presidential elections can be found in the Politics section.

Tuesday, 31 December 2019

President and Prime Minister Reject Claims by Former President's Adviser

ZAGREB, December 31, 2019 - The president and government's public relations offices on Tuesday rejected claims and accusations by a former adviser to the president, Mate Radeljić, regarding his dismissal.

"Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović does not have any need to further comment on the case regarding her former adviser Mate Radeljić. The president has on several occasions publicly reiterated that Mr Radeljić had never been requested by (security) services to resign and that they had discussed his departure several times. We note that the President herself selects and dismisses her advisers," the president's office said in response to Radeljić's claims.

Radeljić accused Grabar-Kitarović of lying during a televised debate on the RTL channel on Monday evening when she said that she did not abuse the Security-Intelligence Agency (SOA). Radeljić claimed that the president had exploited SOA to threaten him and prevent him from his further activities. He noted that a few days after he had spoken with a SOA agent, Grabar-Kitarović personally informed him that Prime Minister Andrej Plenković had "asked her to replace him and that she had to agree because without the support of the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), she would not be able to win the (re-) election."

The government's spokesman Marko Milić referred to Radeljić's statement as yet another in a series of lies tossed about in the media, underscoring that the prime minister has never impacted the selection or replacement of the president's advisers.

"The theory that 'Plenković asked Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović to replace Mate Radeljić and that she had to agree to that because without the HDZ's support she could not win the election' is yet another in a series of lies tossed into the media by those who, by repeating these defamatory statements are acting as if they hope for Zoran Milanovic to get back into power. The president herself selects and dismisses her advisers. The prime minister has never impacted the selection or dismissal of the president's advisers," Milić told Hina when asked to comment on Radeljić's statement.

More news about presidential elections can be found in the Politics section.

Tuesday, 31 December 2019

Miroslav Škoro to Void His Ballot in Presidential Election Runoff

ZAGREB, December 31, 2019 - Miroslav Škoro, who came in third in the first round of presidential elections on December 22, said that he would go to the polls in the January 5 runoff but that he would vote neither for Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović nor for the winner of the first round, Zoran Milanović, and would add candidate No. 3 on his ballot - his Croatian people - and circle that number.

"A lot of you have sent me messages and asked for advice on what to do and who to vote for in the second round. I can't advise you on that because I believe that I don't have the right to tell you what to do," Škoro said in a video message on his Facebook wall, announcing that he would run in the next parliamentary elections.

The independent candidate, who won more than 460,000 votes in the first round of the presidential elections, said that he did not want to opt for the lesser evil or vote for the current system.

He called on his voters to go to the polls, exercise their right to vote and do what they think is right.

If Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović wins, nothing will change, he said. "Croatia will continue to be run by a clique of opportunists who invoke things sacred to the Croatian people until they are elected, after which they rule according to somebody else's instructions, looking away from their own people, ignoring their protests and referendum initiatives."

If Zoran Milanović wins, "the country will have as its president a man whose government has made us poor, seized our property, indebted us, made us emigrate and insulted us, a man who during this campaign, during which he has allegedly become normal, has said that he will not take part in the Vukovar memorial procession because there are no decent people in it," Škoro said in his video message.

More news about presidential elections can be found in the Politics section.

Monday, 30 December 2019

Milanović Has Spent 1.5 Million Kuna, Grabar-Kitarovic 5.4 Million Kuna

ZAGREB, December 30, 2019 - The opposition Social Democratic Party's presidential candidate Zoran Milanović spent 1.5 million kuna on his campaign by December 27 while the ruling Croatian Democratic Union's candidate, incumbent Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović, spent 5.4 million kuna, according to financial statements released on Monday.

The statements, posted on the State Election Commission's website, contain data on expenses, contributions and advertising.

The total costs will be known after the two candidates submit final financial statements by February 4, a month after the January 5 second round of the presidential election. Under the law, each can spend 9.6 million kuna on campaigning.

By December 27, Grabar-Kitarović spent 2.5 million kuna on advertising, whereas Milanović spent 12,400 kuna. Grabar-Kitarovic received 2.3 million kuna from 347 contributors and Milanovic 813,000 kuna from 50.

The nine other candidates who ran in the first round of the presidential election must submit financial statements on their campaigns by January 21.

More news about presidential elections can be found in the Politics section.

Monday, 30 December 2019

Milanović: Enough Trading in Hate, Let's Fight for Civilised Peace

ZAGREB, December 30, 2019 - Presidential candidate Zoran Milanović said on Sunday wars were over and that there should be no more trading in hate at the expense of those who had given the most yet received the least, and called for fighting for "civilised peace."

Speaking at an election rally, he also called "for tolerance and normal relations between people, for what we lost in the privatisation plunder... for what made up the backbone, the core of this society - work, creation, the harder path."

"We can't be a state which lives off rent, natural resources" and membership in the ruling HDZ party, he said.

"There is no true Croatia," he added. Croatia is "a republic of all its citizens, equal citizens, a republic of peace, happiness, prosperity, a republic in which there is respect for those who are different... an open society, a good society."

A republic in which prosperity is not measured only by money, in which people want to live and then there will be many more children, he said. That is not achieved by those who resort to force, violence and threat, but those willing to talk and approach people regardless of faith, he added.

"That's the modern and open society I have been fighting for... for 13 years now... I want to lead a political organisation which will advocate and create an open society for open and free people."

Milanović said that in recent years the office of the president of the republic had been neglected. "I'm bringing something different. I'll be the president of all citizens, I'll bring together the best. We will win... because we are better, because we are more humane, more patient and moderate in the things we offer and promise."

He reiterated that important for demography was an honest government which citizens recognised as theirs and which would not abandon them. "When people recognise that... they stay and fight because they realise that a good, open, honest government supports them, and they will have it with me as president."

Milanović also commented on the 658,000 migrants who crossed Croatia four years ago, when he was prime minister, en route to a better life in Germany and elsewhere.

"We behaved humanely then, but first and foremost as rational politicians, because my job as president is to first and foremost serve Croatia's interests and only then general laws, because if you are not guided by those general laws, society turns into a mob in which everyone is for himself... in which those who are decent, who are weaker, get the worst of it, and that's the majority, unfortunately... That majority is my people and my voters, all Croatian citizens, not true or false ones."

"The Adriatic is the backbone of our world, as is continental Croatia, and we must become aware of our identity, not rebuild it. We are a Mediterranean country, a Central European country and, in part, in the Balkans, and this makes us rich," he said. "We are incredibly talented, full of spirit, energy, and we won't let the merchants in hate and intolerance kill that merry human spirit in us. Our people is merry, curious, but intelligent. Croatia is not disappearing and don't fall for panic tricks that tomorrow we won't be here, that we will be crushed."

Milanović went on to say that he saw a "nice energy" and normal thinking in Croatia. He said it was high time for change and that as president he would not go around as a lobbyist buttonholing shady types but as the chief agent and advocate of Croatian interests.

He said that whatever the outcome of the runoff, the climate in Croatia after this campaign would be "different, healthier... It's time we set high goals. We can be among the first 15 in Europe."

Milanović is the presidential candidate of the opposition Social Democrats and 12 other parties.

More news about presidential elections can be found in the Politics section.

Monday, 30 December 2019

Grabar-Kitarović: People Will Define Croatia's Course in Presidential Election

ZAGREB, December 30, 2019 - President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović called at an election rally in Split on Sunday for coming together and unity, saying that in the January 5 second round of the presidential election the people would define Croatia's course and future.

This is not an election for Kolinda or (Zoran) Milanović, this is the people's election, she said, adding that she wanted January 5 to be the day when people voted for a strong and better Croatia. "Let's vote for new patriotism in 2020."

"My ethical, moral values, my work habits, my relationship with you, my respect for the people who elected me, from whom the power in this state comes and belongs to, that must be in the service of every person and that's what I will continue to do over the next five years."

Grabar-Kitarović called for saying "no to divisions, no to Milanović, no to going the old, no to recession, no to the region."

She said she was worried because of divisions and insults in society, and that this was a brutally dirty campaign. "Instead of a programme, we have heard only insults. Croatian society can't go on like that... Let's confront programmes and ideas for Croatia's development."

She said she was also worried because it seemed that people in Croatia had forgotten too quickly what it was like five years ago. She said Milanović's "political legacy is divisions and spitting on everything."

Grabar-Kitarović said she did not separate voters as "mine and those of others. You are all mine. Croatia is for everyone."

"We must all come and work together when it comes to Croatia. I have been and will remain the president of all Croatian citizens, wherever they live," she said, adding that she wanted to pursue "what we began in 2015, change, a turnaround, growth."

Later in the day, the incumbent president held a rally in Imotski, where she thanked its veterans who took part in the defence of Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

She underlined how important it was for Croatia to support BiH and the Croatian people in BiH because "we are one heart and one soul and no one can separate us."

"Croatian borders are secure today, but we would never wish to put up barriers or wire towards BiH where our Croatian people lives as autochthonous, equal and constituent, whose second homeland is BiH."

Grabar-Kitarović said she would fight for the rights of the Croatian people in BiH and for BiH to join the European Union as soon as possible. "That will enable a better life for everyone in BiH as well as an even stronger connection between Croats on both sides of the border."

A prerequisite for that, she added, is the equality of Croats in BiH. "I won't allow any outvoting, any insults. I will fight for your voice to be heard and for you to decide on BiH's future together with the others."

She said all Croats in the world were welcome in Croatia which, she added, was not perfect, urging them not give up on Croatia.

More news about presidential elections can be found in the Politics section.

Saturday, 28 December 2019

Croatian Politics 2019: A Year in Review

What follows is a review of events in Croatian politics in 2019, as reported by TCN. If you would like to refresh your memory about the events which has led us here, read the reviews for the three previous years (2016, 2017, 2018).

The year started with a high-profile failure by the government. Months after it was announced that Croatia would buy used Israeli F-16 fighter planes, the US government vetoed the sale and the whole project fell through. Despite earlier warnings from experts that the deal was in question, ministers continued to claim that everything was alight. However, after a meeting between high-ranking officials from the United States and Israel, the truth was revealed. Ministers lost their nerves and the government launched an immediate investigation, which expectedly ended without any real results, and also announced that it would re-start the process. To show its level of seriousness, it even established a commission! Twelve months later, the process of deciding which aircraft to buy still hasn't move any further on and is not expected to end for at least another year.

The migrant crisis continued to be in the news this year. The inflow of migrants over the borders with Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia increased somewhat, together with media coverage about alleged brutality of Croatian police and illegal pushbacks of migrants to Bosnia. The authorities were quick to deny everything, but the sheer number of documented cases makes it apparent that at least some of the allegations are founded.

Efforts to limit media freedoms continued this year and some reporters were even briefly arrested. Journalists, NGOs and international organisations stood up to these attempts, but the final score is still unknown.

Repression continued in other ways as well, with courts ruling that peaceful protesters should go to prison, Croatia's human rights situation being criticised from abroad, ethnically-motivated assaults (several of them) taking place, ombudswomen’s warnings not being heard, journalists receiving instructions from the president on what to do, and diplomats spreading hate...

Historical revisionism was in full force once again this year. As a result, representatives of Jews, Serbs and anti-fascist organisations once again boycotted the government’s annual commemoration at the site of the Jasenovac concentration camp.

European elections were held in May (with even Pamela Anderson giving recommendations to Croatian voters). While the ruling HDZ party had high hopes earlier in the year (and was supported by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who attended one of its rather controversial rallies in Zagreb), the actual results were much tighter and were interpreted by everyone as a success for the opposition (particularly SDP) and a disappointment for the government.

June brought us a few days of excitement when it seemed possible that prime minister Plenković might just succeed in his life-long dream of getting a top EU job. Despite denying he ever wanted such a thing, he was rumoured to be trying to become president of the European Commission (or president of the European Council, or perhaps something else). In the end, he had to return to Croatia empty handed, again denying his alleged attempts.

Unlike Plenković, foreign minister Marija Pejčinović-Burić was more successful in the area of career development. In June, she was elected secretary-general of the Council of Europe. She promptly resigned her post in Croatia and has not been heard about since. Another happy politician is Dubravka Šuica, who has been appointed Croatia’s commissioner in the European Commission.

Mostly good economic news continued. Public debt is at its lowest level in decades, the European Commission concluded that Croatia no longer suffered from excessive economic imbalances, and GDP growth is holding up.

One of the companies which was in the public focus this year was Croatia Airlines, Croatia’s national flag carrier. Its business results were dismal and the search for possible strategic partners was on, but without any real results. The government eventually decided to cover some of the debts, but as the year comes to and end, there is no long-term solution in sight. In the meantime, Zagreb Airport continues to lose airlines using its services.

The construction of an LNG terminal on the island of Krk has apparently started out with strong support from the US government, after many years of delays and announcements. The project is funded from the state budget, since there was no interest among anyone to actually use the terminal. The government claims that there will be interest once the terminal is built, but it would not be the first major government-funded project in Croatia’s history to fail to deliver on its promises.

The construction of Pelješac bridge continues to go at an even faster pace than expected (despite occasional Bosnian protests), mostly thanks to the efforts by the Chinese construction company which won the tender, which also brought about a marked improvement in the relations between Croatia and China. Unfortunately, the construction of the access roads leading up to the bridge has not progressed nearly as fast, with tenders being decided just several months ago. It is quite possible that, when the bridge is built, it will be unusable for a while because there will be no roads leading to it.

Emigration continues amid Croatia's demographic crisis, although somewhat slower than in previous years, probably as a result of the fact that most of those who could have left have already done so. The authorities talk about demographic revival, but nothing much has happened so far.

Political scandals were as numerous as ever. The regional development minister had an accident while driving without a driving license, the agriculture minister forgot to list all his assets on an official statement, the administration minister had his own scandals which were too numerous even to count, and the state assets minister had problems of his own. The Prime minister strongly supported his ministers before some of them resigned, and then he changed his mind and dismissed the rest of them.

The ruling coalition remained stable this year, despite occasional rumours of impending collapse. Ultimatums were rejected, resignations demanded, talks announced, decisions to stay in coalition made, threats given... Just the usual stuff.

As expected, the border dispute between Croatia and Slovenia has not been resolved this year. Slovenia was disappointed with the EU’s decision not to get involved in a dispute between its two members. The chances that this issue will feature in our review for 2020 are quite high.

In October, the European Commission announced that Croatia has fulfilled all the technical conditions to join the Schengen area. However, the final decision will require the unanimous support of all EU member states, and Slovenia does not seem ready to give its approval until the border dispute with Croatia is resolved. 

Another major project is the introduction of euro in Croatia. After a lot of talk, the government has finally sent an official request. The process will certainly take years and opinion is divided as to whether it is a good idea or not.

One of the highlights were the trade union's activities. Earlier in the year, the unions managed to collect enough signatures for a referendum against the government’s pension reform and an increase in the retirement age. The government capitulated and revoked already approved laws (although it previously warned that such a decision would be a disaster).

The other major trade union success was the primary and secondary school strike later in the year. After almost two months, the government capitulated and gave the unions more or less everything they had asked for.

One of the highlights of the next six months will be Croatia’s EU presidency. The government is promoting it as a great success, although all EU member states sooner or later get their chance to hold the rotating presidency. While Croatia's plans are ambitious, their delivery will probably be more modest.

The major event at the end of the year was the first round of Croatia's presidential elections.

While the post is largely ceremonial, elections are held every five years and still manage to occupy public attention for months. Three major candidates launched their bids: incumbent president Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović (officially an independent candidate who in reality is HDZ), former SDP prime minister Zoran Milanović, and singer Miroslav Škoro, who presented himself as a candidate of change, despite having been an MP, a diplomat and a former HDZ member.

The first round was held on December 22. Zoran Milanović won with 29.6% of the vote, followed by Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović with 26.7%. Škoro was third with 24.5%. Milanović and Grabar-Kitarović will take part in the run-off on January 5.

Saturday, 28 December 2019

Milanović Believes He Will Attract More Voters Than Incumbent President

ZAGREB, December 28, 2019 - The presidential candidate of the Social Democratic Party and a group of other centre-left parties, Zoran Milanović, held an election rally in the eastern city of Osijek on Friday, saying he hoped he would attract more voters than her rival, the incumbent president Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović, in the January 5 runoff.

"It will be very tight and uncertain until the very end. I will need every vote and every piece of trust people can give me, which I believe will make my victory realistic and attainable," Milanović told reporters in the city's main square.

Asked how he was going to win additional votes in Slavonia, especially from voters of Miroslav Škoro, who was a relative winner of the first round of the presidential election in four of five Slavonia counties, Milanović said he had been doing it for months, but that no radical changes could be achieved in the last five days of campaigning.

"I will continue to be present, drawing attention to what stands in Croatia's way and prevents it from being a good and successful country," he added.

Asked to comment on a statement made by Grabar-Kitarović in Karlovac today, in which she called on voters to vote for a true Croatia in the runoff, Milanović said: "For them a true Croatia is one led by the HDZ, in which she developed (politically) and obtained interest-free loans while others had to sell everything they had for a pittance."

"For me, a true Croatia is something else, an open, curious and modern country, aware of its history, but not naive, not falling for every new trick and every new idea whatever it may be. A mature, sober and confident path leading Croatia into the immediate future," he added.

Commenting on Prime Minister Andrej Plenković's accusations that during his premiership he had increased the country's debt, Milanovic said that his government "saved Croatia from debt collapse, although it took office in the worst financial crisis, with huge interest on our debt", with a public debt of more than 65 percent, which was left by the HDZ government.

"That's why I would like Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović to appear in the first one-on-one debate on Monday," Milanović said, adding that that was also the right way to discuss other things apart from presidential powers, "but which show knowledge, a breadth of education and character, everything I believe I am better at than Grabar-Kitarović."

Asked what his message would be to the people of Slavonia, Milanović said: "Things will be better, but not overnight."

More news about presidential elections can be found in the Politics section.

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