Croatia’s first European election marked by low turnout

Elections vote 1.JPG

Croatians voted yesterday (14 April) for 12 members of the European Parliament. The low turnout of 20.74% is explained by voters' perception that the election was "unimportant", analysts said.

The opposition centre-right HDZ party won six MEP seats with 33.1% of the votes. The ruling Social Democrats (SDP) came in second, with 31.5% of the votes which would allow them to have five seats. The Labour Party obtained 5.7% and will have one seat.

The elected MEPs will take their seats as of 1 July when the country is expected to join the EU. For the time being Croatia is represented in the European Parliament by non-voting observers.

Despite the low turnout, officials called the vote "historic" and a key milestone on a path marked by years of difficult reforms. On the eve of the vote President Ivo Josipovi? had urged Croatians to cast ballots. "”It is extremely important not only on a symbolic level but since we enter the decision-making process in the EU,” he said.

Record remains unbeaten

The low turnout of Croatian European election vote is close to the record low turnout of 19.63% registered in the European elections in Slovakia in 2009. Lithuania registered the second lowest rate with 20.54%. The average turnout of the 2009 European elections in all 27 member countries was 43.24%.

When Croats voted in a referendum to approve the country’s EU accession treaty in January 2012, the turnout was also relatively low, at 43.7%. At that time, two-thirds of the Croats said ‘yes’ to the country’s EU membership.

>> Read: Croats say resounding 'yes' to EU membership

Several analysts said that this time Croats didn’t see the election as important. Indeed, the elected MEPs will spend less than a year in office, as Croatia will vote together will all EU countries again in European elections in May 2014.

Zarko Puhovski, a political analyst, also blamed the lack of campaign. “Instead of an election campaign, we had weeks of virtual electoral silence,” Puhovski told the Associated Press.

According to some, the enthusiasm of Croatians for EU membership is dwindling as the exit from the eurozone crisis remains uncertain.

The most recent opinion polls show that only slightly more than 50% cent of Croatians are supporting their country's EU membership.

"I warmly congratulate our colleagues from the HDZ Party who lead the list that achieved a great result yesterday, winning the elections and gaining 6 out 12 seats," Joseph Daul, chairman of the European People's Party (EPP), said in a statement.

"As I said three days ago in Dubrovnik, Croatia has come a long way since its independence. It is hard to believe that not so long ago the country was still ravaged by war. Now it is about to enter the greatest club of democracies. It is only fitting that the party that has lead Croatia to independence is now symbolically leading it to the EU," Daul added.

Croatia signed its accession treaty on 9 December 2011 in a surrealistic atmosphere of uncertainty over the fate of the European Union, which was in the midst of an unprecedented economic and financial crisis.

>> Read: Croatia joins a Union uncertain of its future

But as German Chancellor Angela Merkel said, the event showed that even under the difficult circumstances, the EU had lost "none of its attractiveness".

The former Yugoslav Republic is expected to become a full EU member as of 1 July 2013.

On 22 January, two-thirds of Croatians voted in favour of joining the European Union in a referendum.

>> Read: Croats say resounding 'yes' to EU membership

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