The centre-left has had a few pretty poor years in Europe, but at least it’s off to a good start for 2020, with a clear win yesterday in Croatia’s presidential election.
Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović, from the centre-right Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), became Croatia’s first female president in 2015 by narrowly beating the centre-left incumbent. The job is mostly ceremonial, but the HDZ soon took power in parliamentary elections as well – it will come up for re-election towards the end of this year.
In the first round of the presidential election, held two weeks ago (read my preview here), Social Democrat Zoran Milanović led the field with 29.9%, about 55,000 votes ahead of Grabar-Kitarović on 27.0%. Populist independent Miroslav Škoro was a close third with 24.7%. The rest of the field was well back; Mislav Kolakušić was the best, on 5.9%.
That was a better result for Milanović than the opinion polls had predicted, so it was no great surprise when they swung round to predicting victory for him in the runoff. And so it was: he extended his lead to 105,000 votes, beating Grabar-Kitarović 52.7% to 47.3%.
Given that the point of a non-executive presidency is to be a unifying figure, it’s remarkable how many of them have been closely contested in recent years. But Milanović at least struck the right note, saying (according to Politico) “We are a multi-party parliamentary democracy. It’s not perfect, but we don’t have better than that. Everything else is a way into autocracy.”
The HDZ government of prime minister Andrej Plenković is still ahead in the opinion polls, but its lead has narrowed sharply over the last year, giving the Social Democrats grounds for optimism. And having thrown out two presidents in succession, Croatian voters have shown that they have no special loyalty towards incumbents.