Exit polls show dead heat for SDP and HDZ in Croatian snap election

By bne IntelliNews September 11, 2016

Exit polls indicate that the Social Democratic Party (SDP)-led People’s Coalition and the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) have both won 57 seats in the September 11 snap election. Bridge of Independent Lists (Most) appears to have won 12 and the anti-establishment Zivi Zid (Living Wall) seven, according to About Croatia.

Exit polls have confirmed expectations of a hung parliament although the picture will be clearer on September 12 when the election commission announces preliminary results. The HDZ appears to have outperformed earlier polls, which were predicting the SDP would have a narrow lead over its main rival. However, if the exit polls prove correct, neither the SDP nor the HDZ will be able to reach the 71 seats needed for a majority only with the support of Most, and will need to put together a coalition with one of more of the smaller parties as well. 

It is possible that HDZ and Most may form a coalition government with the support of smaller parties or minorities, even though the previous coalition between the two parties ended acrimoniously in June. 

“Given that Most has poor relations with the SDP and that many of its members are conservative or even former HDZ members, and Andrej Plenkovic's replacement of Tomislav Karamarko as leader of the HDZ, the Economist Intelligence Unit expects that another HDZ-Most government is the most likely outcome,” Maximilien Lambertson, research analyst, Europe, at the Economist Intelligence Unit, said in an e-mailed comment. 

However, Lambertson did not discount the possibility of an SDP-led government or a new election. He added that he did not expect a grand coalition between the SDP and the HDZ.

Zivi Zid has already announced repeatedly that it does not plan to join any coalition government. 

Among the smaller parties, the Istrian Democratic Party (IDS) and the Coalition For the Prime Minister led by Zagreb Mayor Milan Bandic look set to take two seats each, while the Croatian Democratic Alliance of Slavonia and Baranja (HDSSB) and Pametno (Smart) party are likely to take one each, exit polls showed.

Considering the recent and continuing fragmentation of political parties in Croatia, political instability is likely to persist in the medium-term, which does not bode well for decisive policy implementation, according to Lambertson.

Only 60.2% of Croatia’s approximately 3.8mn voters went to the polls.

A total of 140 deputies will be elected by ten election constituencies while Croatian citizens living abroad will elect three seats and minorities will elect eight deputies. HDZ is expected to win the three seats to be elected by the diaspora as usual.

Most leader Bozo Petrov speculated on September 7 that the country’s two main political forces would rule together in a grand coalition after elections. However, Plenkovic and SDP leader Zoran Milanovic have ruled out the possibility of a grand coalition many times. On September 5, Milanovic denied international pressure to form a grand coalition and said “international factors do not exist, and these decisions are made in Zagreb”.

Petrov also said on September 7 that Most would reach out to both of its bigger rivals after the elections to form a coalition government.

The People’s Coalition includes the SDP, the small but influential liberal-left Croatian People’s Party (HNS), the Croatian Pensioners' Party (HSU) and the Croatian Peasants’ Party (HSS), which was a member of the HDZ-led right-wing coalition before the November 2015 elections. HDZ, Most and the Labour Party went to the polls alone. Zivi Zid went to the polls with Let’s Change Croatia Party, which was founded by three former Most deputies, while the Reformist Party and the Bandic Milan 365 Party have also formed an election coalition together with other smaller parties.

Despite the political turmoil in the country following the government's collapse in June, macroeconomic data for Croatia is still promisingexcept the ongoing deflation, while the EU and International Monetary Fund (IMF) anchors play their role to keep public finance figures under control. GDP growth in Croatia accelerated from 2.7% y/y in Q1 to 2.8% y/y in Q2.

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