Ruling Party Victorious in Croatia’s Parliamentary Elections
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08 JUL 2020 Spotlight
The ruling centre-right Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) won the parliamentary elections in Croatia on 5 July. This party will form a government for the 12th time out of the 15 cabinets since independence. Prime Minister Andrej Plenković’s main task will be to pull the economy from recession, which is forecast to exceed 10% of GDP.
Photo: Sanjin Strukic/PIXSELL Photo: Sanjin Strukic/PIXSELL

What were the results for the two main parties?

HDZ won 37.3% of the votes and 66 of the 151 seats in the unicameral Sabor, five mandates more than it had before. This result is much better than pre-election polls indicated. Most of them showed a lead by the centre-left Restart Coalition, consisting of the Social Democratic Party of Croatia (SDP) and several small liberal parties. It had maintained that advantage since the beginning of 2020 when its candidate and former leader, Zoran Milanović, won the presidential election against HDZ nominee and incumbent candidate Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović. Meanwhile, in the parliamentary elections, the SDP won 24.9% of the votes and 41 seats, four fewer than it had. The government and opposition agreed to shorten the parliamentary term and hold elections before the September constitutionally required date, fearing an increase in coronavirus infections after the summer holidays.

What other groups will be in parliament?

In addition to HDZ and SPD, which have been dominant on the Croatian political scene for three decades, the debuting Patriotic Movement of Miroslav Škoro (DPMŠ) will sit in Sabor. This conservative party was founded in February on the wave of success of its leader, a singer who, as an independent anti-system candidate, obtained 24.5% of the vote in the presidential election. The party won 16 seats in parliament from 10.9% of the voters. The centre-right Bridge of Independent Lists won 7.4% of the votes and eight seats, losing five. The debuting Green-Left Coalition received 7% support and seven seats. Its score was better than opinion polls indicated and came on the back of a weak SPD result. Given the electoral threshold is applicable at the regional, not national level, there will also be five members of Sabor from three small liberal parties. Parliament will be supplemented by eight representatives of national minorities.

What do the election results mean for the government and the opposition?

The election results mark the continuation of Plenković’s government. It will be the 12th cabinet in which HDZ is in a leading role out of the 15 since independence. This time, the party needs only 10 MPs to form the government. The PM confirmed the support of the Croatian People’s Party–Liberal Democrats, which in the outgoing government is the only formal coalition partner, and from the People’s Party–Reformists (both groups won one seat each), as well as from members of national minorities who supported the current government. SPD will remain the opposition party, but weaker than before. It may slide further as the disappointing election score resulted in the resignation of its leader, Davor Bernardić, and in addition to the change of management, programme adjustments will be needed.

What challenges will the new government face?

The government will need to find a way to reduce the scale of the pandemic-induced recession, which in 2020, according to forecasts by the European Commission (EC), will result in a decline in Croatia’s GDP by 10.8% (the highest in the EU after Spain and Italy). The task will be difficult because up to 20% of Croatia’s GDP comes from tourism, badly harmed at the moment by the restrictions on international transport and increase in infections globally, among others. Another difficulty is that Croatia has the lowest efficiency in the use of EU funds (31%). This will be important in the context of the Next Generation EU financial mechanism, the creation of which Croatia supported as the country holding the presidency of the Council of the EU. Public health will be an equally important challenge as the economy. The relaxation of restrictions resulted in a renewed increase in the number of infections since mid-June—up to 96 per day in a country of about 4.1 million, compared to 30 a day in the previous month.

What are the consequences of the elections on Croatia’s European and foreign policy?

There is consensus among the largest political parties on Croatia’s priorities in European politics: joining the euro area and the Schengen area. After Croatia expressed its intention to join ERM II in 2019, in May this year the EC confirmed that this will be possible this summer. However, a report by the European Central Bank from June indicates that the country has not met all the convergence criteria. Extension of the Schengen area, in turn, is not being considered in the EU right now. Unlike the SPD, which advocates a stronger alliance with Germany at the expense of looser ones with the U.S., the HDZ government will want to maintain intense transatlantic cooperation. In addition, Prime Minister Plenković, unlike President Milanović, will not criticize the Three Seas Initiative, but will not be actively involved in its development, either.