Croatia's HDZ in stronger position to form new government after local election victory

Croatia's HDZ in stronger position to form new government after local election victory
Prime Minister and HDZ leader casts his vote in May 21 local elections.
By Akin Nazli in Belgrade May 22, 2017

The Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) achieved a landslide victory in city councils in the first round of local polls on May 21, according to unofficial preliminary results from the State Election Commission.

The local polls were seen as a popular confidence vote for the troubled ruling HDZ. The HDZ’s parliamentary majority is currently in question after Prime Minister and HDZ leader Andrej Plenkovic decided last month to split the coalition with his junior partner the Bridge of Independent Lists (Most). 

The ruling party won a majority in 12 city councils while the main opposition Social Democratic Party (SDP) won the majority in just five cities.

The Istrian Democratic Party (IDS) won majority of the seats in only one city council while Zagreb mayor Milan Bandic’s party kept its dominant position in the Zagreb parliament.

Plenkovic welcomed the results of the first round of the local polls, commenting on the night of May 21 at his party headquarters that Croatia was “turning blue”, the colour of the HDZ.

“We continue to pursue our national policy - focusing on economic growth and development, legal security, social solidarity and strong political responsibility,” Plenkovic told supporters, according to a party statement

“We are here to solve problems. I believe that we will have strong support from Croatian voters on this road.”

Plenkovic has denied that splitting the coalition was a pre-electoral move, but it is seen by some observers as being intended to boost his party’s position ahead of the local polls. 

Last week, Plenkovic said he would launch talks to appoint four new ministers after the first round of the local elections, to replace the four former Most ministers in his cabinet. The new ministers will be presented to the parliament after the second round of local polls to be held on June 4, according to the prime minister.

Residents of the Adriatic country’s four largest cities, namely the capital Zagreb, Split, Rijeka and Osijek, will go to the polls again on June 4 for the second round of local elections as the results in those cities were inconclusive, the State Election Commission’s preliminary results showed.

Bandic led the first round of the polls in Zagreb with a 31% share in total votes. Bandic will compete with Anka Mrak Taritas, the candidate for the centre-left Croatian People’s Party’s (HNS) and supported also by the SDP in the second round. Taritas had 24% of the votes in the first round, according to the unofficial results.

Bandic has a good chance of being re-elected despite being the subject of several corruption cases. This is despite the efforts of some Zagreb residents to remove their current mayor. In March, a group of Croatian intellectuals launched the “Zagreb is Ours” platform with the aim of ousting Bandic.

In Split, the second largest city, independent candidate Zeljko Kerum took 30% of the vote while HDZ candidate Andro Krstulovic Opara came second with 26%. SDP candidate Vojko Obersnel led the polls in Rijeka with 41%, followed by independent candidate Hrvoje Buric with 18%. Independent candidate Ivan Vrkic had 37% of the vote in Osijek, followed by HDZ candidate Ivana Sojat with 17%.

The first round of the local polls also indicated Croatia’s increasing drift to the right, in parallel with other European countries. 

Concerns over extremism in the Adriatic country have not lost pace under the conservative HDZ government’s two terms. The previous HDZ-led coalition was also accused of turning a blind eye to rising nationalism in Croatia. In March, the government decided to establish a commission which will investigate possible solutions to the growing social divisions in the country.

Rising social conservatism was reflected on May 20 when more than 20,000 anti-abortion campaigners marched in Zagreb, according to local media reports. An anti-abortion rally was also held in Split.

In April, Croatian nationalists, including members of the far-right HSP party, held protests inside and in front of the Croatian National Theatre in Split  on April 24 against a controversial play called “Our Violence and Your Violence” about Europe’s response to the refugee crisis.