Election preview: Croatia

The less interesting of today’s national elections is in Croatia, but that itself is a sign of Croatia’s remarkable progress in the last two decades. In the mid-1990s Croatia was still traumatised by a civil war, a fascist past and an authoritarian present; now, although of course not without problems, it’s a stable and peaceful member of the European Union.

Among other indications of normality, Croatia has developed a fairly typical two-party system. Most support will go to one of two coalitions: the centre-left “Croatia is Growing”, consisting of the Social Democrats, the Liberal Democrats and some smaller parties, and the centre-right “Patriotic Coalition”, led by the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ).

Voting is proportional (D’Hondt) within each of ten districts, plus additional representatives for expats and national minorities. The 5% threshold for representation operates within each district, not nationally, so it is relatively easy for minor parties to get a foothold. In 2011 the centre-left came away with 81 seats (from 40.7% of the vote), the centre-right 47 seats for its 23.9.%, and minor parties the remaining 23. (There has since been some reshuffling of partners – the Labour Party, for example, is now with the centre-left coalition – but it doesn’t change the basic picture.)

Social Democrat prime minister Zoran Milanović is seeking a second term in office, but his government has been looking shaky. It spent most of last year well behind in the polls (Wikipedia has another of its useful summaries), and in January this year it narrowly lost the directly-elected presidency to the centre-right candidate, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović.

Recent elections in Europe have tended to swing against incumbents and in favor of the centre-right, but neither trend is particularly strong. Here are the results so far this year:

Country Date Government before Government after Swing
Greece January Centre-right coalition with centre-left Radical left 2.4% to left
Estonia March Liberal coalition with centre-left Liberal coalition with centre-left and centre-right 6.4% to right
Finland April Centre-right coalition with centre-left Liberal coalition with centre-right and far right 0.9% to left
United Kingdom May Centre-right coalition with liberals Centre-right 0.4% to right
Denmark June Centre-left Centre-right 2.6% to right
Greece September Radical left Radical left 1.9% to left
Portugal October Centre-right ? Centre-left coalition with radical left 9.6% to left
Switzerland October Grand coalition Grand coalition 2.1% to right
Poland October Liberal Centre-right 10.0% to right


As with much of the continent, the recent refugee crisis is a big issue in Croatia. The Milanović government has adopted a generally compassionate line, while the opposition has argued for tougher measures. On the evidence of the polls, however (which of course may well be unreliable), toughness does not seem to be a vote-winner; the centre-left has been making up ground and is now running neck and neck.

If, as seems likely, neither coalition wins a majority on its own, the centre-left looks slightly better placed to find allies among the minor parties, but success would be by no means assured. Unlike many countries in which refugees are a political issue, there is no sign of a surge in support for the far right. The HDZ started life as a right-wing authoritarian party, but it was dragged towards the centre in the early part of this century by its then-leader Ivo Sanader, and it looks like remaining there.

2 thoughts on “Election preview: Croatia

  1. It’s always interesting to chat with Croats and find they’re much more aware of how fortunate Australian Citizens are than Australian Citizens themselves (especially among Crikey subscribers?) seem to understand.


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