Croatia’s ruling HDZ scores unexpected win in parliamentary elections

President of the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) Andrej Plenkovic casts his ballot at a polling station during parliamentary elections, in downtown Zagreb, Croatia, 05 July 2020. Croatian citizens on 05 July voted for a new parliament. EPA-EFE/DANIEL KASAP

Croatia’s ruling conservative HDZ (EPP) became the unexpected winner of parliamentary elections held in the newest EU member on Sunday (5 July) despite the renewed rise of coronavirus infections. EURACTIV Croatia reports.

According to the first preliminary results, HDZ won 63+3 seats (3 from the diaspora) in the 151-seat parliament, while Opposition Restart coalition led by SDP (S&D) won 41 seats, its lowest result since 1995.

Rightwing Homeland Movement, led by former folk singer Miroslav Škoro, won 16 seats, while the Bridge party won eight and the green-left platform, We Can, obtained seven seats. The pro-business liberal platform STRIP will have three seats and HNS one.

Due to the sudden spike in COVID-19 cases, turnout was only 45.7%, one of the lowest since Croatia’s first democratic elections in 1990.

Polls had predicted Sunday’s elections to be a neck-and-neck race between the HDZ and Restart, with even a slight edge for the centre-left platform.

The results, which turned out to be almost equally surprising to all the parties involved, came as a relief to Prime Minister Andrej Plenković, who will probably be able to form a government quickly, with ethnic minorities and one smaller party, without having to make major concessions.

“The long and uncertain night has become short and certain. There are several scenarios but this majority will be controlled by the HDZ and it will essentially be an HDZ government run by Andrej Plenković,” said political analyst Dragan Bagic.

Even more importantly, according to analyst Damir Jugo, is that the new government is likely to be stable, “which is a good thing now”.

The government’s priority will be to revive a shrinking economy, which faces the expected loss of summer tourism revenues, prepare projects to draw money from the EU’s recovery fund, which has earmarked almost €10 billion for Croatia, and complete the project of joining the ERM-2, the ‘waiting room’ for the eurozone.

Plenković, whose campaign was supported by prominent EPP leaders, including Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and several EU prime ministers, successfully staved off the offensive from the right, led by the Homeland Movement, and may now seek to position the HDZ as a more traditional Christian Democrat party.

In the other major camp, prominent SDP members, including MEP Biljana Borzan (S&D), are calling for party leader Davor Bernardić to step down in the wake of poor results that will keep the Social Democrats in opposition for the second straight mandate.

One of the surprises was the leftist-green We Can (Možemo) coalition. It turned out to be the biggest winner in Zagreb, signalling the final demise of the controversial long-serving mayor Milan Bandić, whose party BM365 did not pass the threshold – Bandić’s biggest defeat since he took over the Croatian capital in 2000.

Apart from corruption allegations – and one failed indictment, but no running court cases – against Bandić, the most important reason for his defeat was the March 22 earthquake that devastated large chunks of the capital, and the subsequent weak response from the city council.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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