POLICY ANALYSIS: The Political Landscape in 2013 is Changing. How Fast?

In 2013, there will be a few critical political events and elections that will dramatically affect the political landscape in Croatia, which will also have a “trickle down” effect to the political and economic dynamic at the national level.

On 19 May, elections will be held for government control of local municipalities, cities, and counties throughout Croatia.  The elections for Croatia’s representatives (MEPs) to the European Parliament (EP) will be held on the same day.   On March 21, the European Commission (EC) is scheduled to issue its final European Union (EU) Accession Monitoring report, in lieu of Croatia’s scheduled EU membership on 1 July.

Local Government Elections      

Since Croatia’s first free elections in 1990 and its independence in 1991, election results at the local level have traditionally foreseen the trend of electoral support at the national level and eventual governmental change.  Also, this year’s elections will determine the political relations between the national government’s coalition party partners, especially between the Social Democratic Party (SDP), the Croatian People’s Party (HNS) and the Istrian Democratic Sabor (IDS).

With the leading opposition party, the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), still recovering from the numerous corruption scandals led by its former president and former PM Sanader, the HDZ is still restructuring and having difficulties in taking advantage of the present government’s negative public image.

Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic (SDP) is preparing for the elections and intends to increase the SDP’s influence throughout Croatia, even at the expense of its coalition partners.  For example, the SDP is supporting IDS outcast and MP Damir Kajin for Istrian Prefect, against the IDS candidate Valter Flego, which is causing serious friction at the government coalition level.  Also, they have chosen not to support the candidacy of HNS Mayor of Dubrovnik, Andro Vlahusic.

The SDP is traditionally dominant in Zagreb, the Zagreb region and Rijeka.  In other regions, the SDP is dependent upon coalition partners and their willingness to exert themselves to increase their electoral results will have negative repercussions at the national level.

The SDP leadership nationally has also imposed its candidate (Health Minister Rajko Ostojic) upon the local SDP in Zagreb; they are afraid of losing government control of the capital city and that the incumbent Mayor Milan Bandic (former member and outcast of the SDP) will win the popular elections.

Recent media analyses from traditionally liberal media outlets have begun to cover the elections and have identified the SDP’s weaknesses outside of Zagreb and Rijeka, rationalising the party’s unpopularity as a reflection of the economic recession nationally.  This is partially true.

The public dissatisfaction with the new government’s economic policies of increasing taxes and austerity programs, the continuation of political favouritism, and the prolonged economic recession will definitely affect the results of the local elections.

Taking into account these factors and the weakness of the HDZ, it can be expected that smaller opposition parties (e.g. the Croatian Labourists (HL), independent candidates (e.g. Bandic in Zagreb) and regional parties (e.g. the HDSSB in Slavonia) will continue to be popular alternatives to the SDP-HNS and the HDZ.

EU Membership     

Croatia’s is scheduled to become a full EU member on 1 July 2013.  The EC is supposed to issue its final monitoring report in March or April.  This report will elaborate on Croatia’s progress on the final 10 areas identified by the EC in its previous report…

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