Croatia’s ruling HDZ party notches up solid lead in poll

Croatia’s ruling conservatives have a convincing lead over their centre-left rivals in parliamentary elections, according to a partial vote count, amid a low voter turnout caused in part by a recent spike in coronavirus cases.

The governing Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), led by premier Andrej Plenkovic, have a projected 68 seats in the 151-seat parliament. It is the party’s best result in recent times, though it lacks an outright majority. 

“This is one of the biggest victories in the history of the Croatian Democratic Union,” said parliament’s Speaker, Gordan Jandrokovic.

“This is a much better result than expected for the HDZ,” said Tena Prelec, a researcher at the department of politics and international relations at the University of Oxford. She noted that the party, which has controlled Croatia politics for most of the past three decades, has the country’s most loyal voter base.

The Social Democrat-led Restart coalition performed worse than expected, garnering only a projected 43 seats. A recently formed green-left coalition is projected to win six mandates, along with a quarter of the votes in the capital. Its popularity boomed after Zagreb was struck in April by the worst earthquake in 140 years and won support from American actress Jane Fonda.

The new government will need to contend with the worst economic slump since tourism-reliant Croatia declared independence in 1991, with a projected contraction of 10 per cent, and rising Covid-19 cases. The country of 4.2m kept the outbreak under control in the first few months of the pandemic, with 3,000 infections and about 110 deaths. But the numbers have been rising and Mr Plenkovic’s government came under fire for an outbreak following a tennis tournament organised by Novak Djokovic.

Ahead of the vote, analysts anticipated that an HDZ-led coalition could push the newest EU member further to the right. The most obvious option for a coalition partner was the third-placed Homeland Movement, which has an estimated 15 seats. 

The recently formed populist party’s campaign was predicated on courting voters from the HDZ’s more conservative and nationalist ranks; the traditional party’s victory shows that many were satisfied with Mr Plenkovic’s “moderate brand of leadership”, said Ms Prelec. If the results hold, “this is a victory for the moderate HDZ” as embodied by Mr Plenkovic, she said.

The premier led Croatia’s recent presidency of the EU, its first since joining the 27-member bloc in 2013, and has pledged to join the eurozone and the Schengen free movement area. 

“Many people have felt represented on the European stage properly,” said Ms Prelec, though she noted that clientelism also plays a role in the party’s continued success. 

Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president, came under fire for appearing in a video made by the European People’s party, a centre-right group including the HDZ, repeating the party’s slogan “Safe Croatia”. A spokesperson for the commission said the endorsement was made in Ms von der Leyen’s personal role and not in her professional capacity.


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