By Natasa Radic
For the seventh time since independence, Croatian voters will go to the polls to choose leaders for the next four years.
“I still don’t know if I will vote on Sunday. I think they are all the same,” said Ana Maria Begovic, a teacher from Zagreb. “If I decide to go out Sunday, and if it is not too cold, I will vote SDP, as we have not seen [Zoran] Milanovic in political action yet. These guys [HDZ], so far, did not show anything significantly important,” she concluded.
Nino I., a mechanic, disagrees and will vote for the ruling HDZ. “They did start the fight against corruption. And they appreciate the homeland and patriotic values and this is why I will vote for them.”
Tatjana Ranogajec, a housewife, says that she will vote for a new party, the Croatian Labour Party. “I think they are honest people. I know that they will not get a lot of votes, but I am sure they will enter parliament and I want to help them. We are all a bit tired of the one and the same faces we have been seeing for years”, she adds.
According to the Mediana Fides agency, the latest polls suggest that the ruling Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) — in power since 2003 — will win 41 seats, while the centre left opposition, united under the Kukuriku coalition, will win 83.
“Elections in Croatia are, as always, important for two main reasons. First, Croatia is still a young democracy, merely two decades old, in terms of multiparty electoral systems and liberal democracy as we know it today. So, every election cycle still bears significance on the casting of the votes, as more than half of the electorate participated more in socialist Yugoslav ‘elections’ than in democratic ones,” Vedran Obucina, political analyst and commentator told SETimes.
“Secondly, and maybe more importantly for Croatia today, is the political culture,” said Obucina.
“In a country where prime ministers, ministers and other functionaries are caught in affairs, or where they are under investigation, no one is eager to resign. Not only to resign from the post, but also from the position of party chairman or functionary. It is inconceivable in the Western, well-established democracies, to stay in the same position, even if only the image of a politician is endangered. That is why Croatians have to come out on election day, as this is the only opportunity in our political system to really change institutional representatives,” he concludes.
Barring any surprises Sunday, the centre-left coalition will rule the country for the second time since independence. So far the party won only in 2000, when the late Social Democrat (SDP) leader Ivica Racan became prime minister.
Zoran Milanovic, the new SDP head, might have the same opportunity this time, though Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor, leader of the centre-right HDZ, wants to stay at the helm.
The campaign has been a reflection of the economic times: frugal – a sign of the recession that has hit Croatia hard. The parties mostly competed by explaining how they intend to fight the financial crisis.
For the first time ever, the parties opened special money transfer accounts for financial donations, which in turn improved the transparency of campaign financing.
The voting system in Croatia has not been properly addressed and poses an acute problem. NGOs such as GONG focused public attention on the problem, but the voters’ lists have not been properly updated.
Voter registration is another problem. There are 4,290,612 people living in Croatia, but the voter registration list has 4, 505,081 voters. Even adding the diaspora number, the number of voters cannot exceed the number of citizens — including minors — by this much.
Gordana Obradovic, director of the Centre for Education, Research and Counselling (CESI), points out another problem to SETimes.
“Political parties did nothing to respect and implement the need for quotas on their lists, with at least 40% of women represented as candidates. If the parties had to pay for this misconduct, HDZ would have to pay 70,000 euros, and Kukuriku coalition 55,000 euros,” she says.
For this reason CESI put together a “wall of shame” list of all parties that failed to offer adequate political representation of women on their candidate lists.