This Sunday sees the Croatian parliamentary elections. The contest is essentially between the ruling Conservative HDZ led coalition and the left-wing SDP led Kukuriku coalition.
The ruling coalition has been beset by corruption scandals. Most notably, the former HDZ Prime Minister is currently on trial on corruption charges. Further, the party itself is being investigated by anti-corruption officials. This has hit the party hard in the opinion polls, and the SDP led Kukuriku coalition consequently looks set to win the election.
The HDZ has not given in. Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor has tried to turn the corruption issue to her advantage by pointing out that she is not resisting any anti-corruption efforts. Further, she is hoping that Croatia’s current success in moving forward with EU accession – the EU parliament has just approved it – will help her.
Another element of the HDZ strategy has been to suggest that that the SDP have not really changed from their communist roots. This plays on a great divide in Croatian society between those previously associated – to a greater or lesser degree – with the old communist party/state and those who were not. This is not often remarked on in the English speaking media but is certainly exist and does determine a great many votes. However, a number of wags point out that the HDZ is also an ex-communist party due to the number of former party members it has.
HDZ strategists will no doubt also be hoping the opinion polls are wrong. The HDZ are usually underestimated in opinion polls. If the HDZ does indeed lose its not likely to be as a bad as polls suggest, which would be in keeping with past experience.
None of the above may be enough to save the HDZ from defeat. Certainly a poll released yesterday does not bode well for them, predicting 79 seats for the opposition and 42 for the HDZ – plus three from the diaspora vote. The HDZ would need to do better on the day to be able to form even a theoretical coalition with other small parties.
The public are weary of the corruption issue, and whilst fingers have been pointed at the Kukuriku coalition, especially at a local level, it is the HDZ who are in government. Further, there is discontent regarding the economy. The Kukuriku coalition may well be right to feel confident.
Foreign policy change?
In the event of a Kukuriku win, it is likely that the HNS’s Vesna Pusic will become foreign minister. She already has a foreign profile due to her being a vice-president of the European Liberal Democrat and Reform Party. Something to watch out for will be her relations with neighbouring Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH). She has shown concern over the status of Croats in BiH. There is considerable controversy over their effective disenfranchisement form power structures.
Pusic’s new interest is remarkable; she was well known for severely criticising President Franjo Tudjman for his support of BiH Croats, and had herself no time for them. Her recent comment on the issue represents one of Croatia’s biggest political U-turns. This is very likely due to strategic reasons; Croats in BiH represent a buffer zone for much of Dalmatia.
This is hardly an election issue, and has gone more or less unremarked in the English language media. However, if she sticks to her line should she become foreign minister, there could be friction with neighbouring BiH – Sarajevo are not well inclined towards its Croats. And some in the international community may not be pleased. This will be one to watch.