Election Profile: Croatia

by Dr Alison Smith

Tomorrow’s Croatian elections are taking place on schedule, a novelty for European countries in these turbulent times.  However, the campaign has been far from dull. Opposition parties have joined forces against HDZ (Croatian Democratic Party), Croatia’s governing party for sixteen of its twenty independent years.  HDZ’s fall from grace has been dramatic.   Charged with corruption, its assets were seized and its former Prime Minister put on trial in early November.

Meanwhile, the opposition coalition, Kukuriku (‘cock-a-doodle-doo’), looks set to win a comfortable governing majority in parliament.  But victory will be the easy part.  Kukuriku is emphasising its anti-corruption platform, effectively highlighting HDZ’s main weakness.  But the country’s main weakness is its economy, which has been slow to recover from the 2008 downturn. Unemployment is stubbornly high at 17.4%.  Austerity fatigue has already set in, with social discontent rising.

Kururiku’s manifesto, Plan 21, makes for interesting reading.  Unfortunately, as a blueprint for governing in difficult times, it is weak and contradictory.  For example, it bemoans Croatia’s lack of industry, proposing investment to create export-oriented growth production, as if reversing decades of de-industrialisation were that easy.  Manifestos are always optimistic documents, but Plan 21 lacks a sense of realism.

Although decrying neo-liberalism, Kururiku has indicated that an IMF loan may be sought to obtain lower interest rates on Croatia’s debt.   IMF loans come with string attached, and many of Kururiku’s ideas for economic stimulus are unlikely to find support amongst the bean-counters, who have been notoriously dismissive of spend-to-save innovations.   Similarly, plans to create a ‘fairer’ society by increasing state pensions are unlikely to be implemented.

While the Croatian political system will benefit from finally having a strong challenger to HDZ, it will be interesting to see how Kururiku copes with the harsh reality of governing in times of externally-enforced austerity.  The process of turning Plan 21 into a programme for government will be fraught with disagreement and tense negotiation. Unfortunately, party coalitions like Kururiku are notoriously unstable, often struggling to compromise after achieving their unifying aims of ousting the common enemy.

The Croatian elections will be held on Sunday 4th December.

To read Kururiku’s manifesto, click here: http://www.kukuriku.org/plan21

To read HDZ’s manifesto, click here: http://www.hdz.hr/program/