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22nd Jan 2022

Economy, refugees on voters' minds in Croatia

  • HDZ billboard in Zagreb (Photo: Tihana Lohinski)

The economy, and, to a lesser extent, the migrant crisis, are big issues in Croatia’s narrowly-fought election on Sunday (8 November).

Opinion polls, for instance, by Promocija Plus in October, or by Ipsos and Nova TV last week, say there’s just 1 percent or so difference between the incumbent, SDP-led coalition of PM Zoran Milanovic and the HDZ-led group of Tomislav Karamarko.

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The centre-left SDP and the centre-right HDZ parties have rotated in power over recent years.

This time round is unlikely to be different, with smaller factions, such as OraH, Most, Zivi zid, Milan Bandic 365 and the Successful Croatia coalition, hoping, at best, to each return a handful of MPs.

The SDP, which is running under the banner “Croatia is growing,” says that, in the aftermath of the economic crisis, GDP will expand by 1.5 percent this year

"We're being realistic. We make our promises come true. We don't make false promises. Our economic policy is shown to be effective, realistic,” Boris Lalovac, the SDP finance minister, said, in a swipe at HDZ’s promise of 5 percent growth.

HDZ, which fell from grace in a corruption scandal in 2011, and who’s former PM, Ivo Sanader, is behind bars pending trial, is running under the “Patriotic coalition” slogan.

Its manifesto consists of “economic growth, sustainable development, and employment.”

Karamarko has also attacked Milanovic on the issue of Croatia’s increasing debt.

"We won’t forgive them the more than 100,000 Croats who left the country in the last three and a half years. We won’t forgive the more than 100,000 extinguished workplaces, incompetence, neglect … 270,000 [people] unemployed,” Karamarko said.

Refugees

Croatia's handling of the refugee crisis, with tens of thousands of people entering the country en route to Germany in September and October, is also on voters’ minds.

For Zarko Puhovski, a Croatian political analyst, SDP and HDZ both tried to exploit the situation for political gain, but both failed.

The SDP attacked Germany for its open doors policy. It also attacked Hungary, for sealing its borders, and Serbia, for waving people into Croatia. But Puhovski says it “didn’t help [them] much.”

The HDZ defended Germany and Serbia, bu they did it an “unskillful” and “awkward” way.

The German leader, Angela Merkel, later shifted her policy closer to the SDP, and the migrants' main transit route shifted to Slovenia.

“The crisis is no longer the main concern in the country … There are no longer any major differences between the two coalitions, which makes the campaign rather boring,” Puhovski noted.

In total, 4.5 million Croatians are entitled to vote - 3.8 million inside Croatia, and the rest from the diaspora, which is scattered in 48 different countries.

Apathy

But for Berto Salaj, a political scientist at the University of Zagreb, Sunday will make little difference to people’s lives.

He said the de facto HDZ-SDP duopoly is “bad for Croatia” because it generates political apathy and clanish voting.

“In a situation where almost 40 percent of people don't even go to the polls, they [HDZ and SDP] can count on the support of their traditional voters no matter what happens,” Salaj said.

Puhovski added that the narrow margin between HDZ and SDP is likely to make Sunday’s result inconclusive.

“The real race [for power] will actually begin on Monday, 9 November, after the results are announced,” he said.

“If HDZ wins, but with a small margin, it might not be enough to form a government.”

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