Croatia elections pit PM against president

Croatia elections pit PM against president

/ 02:52 PM April 15, 2024

Croatia elections pit PM against president

Croatia’s Prime Minister and President of Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) party, Andrej Plenkovic (C) meets with supporters as he arrive for a rally in Zagreb on April 14, 2024. Croatia holds parliamentary elections on April 17 with two main candidates to lead the government who have dominated the Balkan country’s political scene for years. Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic, a conservative, will square off against the populist left-wing President Zoran Milanovic. The arch-rivals are both seeking to lure voters with promises of prosperity, as Croatia grapples with widespread corruption, a chronic labour shortage, inflation, and illegal migration. (Photo by STRINGER / AFP)

Zagreb, Croatia — Croatia heads to the polls on Wednesday for parliamentary elections that have centered around a bitter fight between the country’s longtime rivals — Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic and President Zoran Milanovic.

The showdown comes as Croatia grapples with widespread corruption, a chronic labor shortage, the highest inflation rate in the eurozone and persistent illegal migration along its borders.


READ: Historic new year for Croatia as it joins euro, Schengen area


For months, Plenkovic and his ruling Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) party looked poised to score an easy win and secure his third term as premier.

But in March, Milanovic shocked the nation by saying he would challenge the prime minister.

“A quite predictable vote turned into an uncertain battle,” political analyst Tihomir Cipek told AFP.

Milanovic, whose presidential term expires in January, is backed by the Social Democrats Party (SDP) and says he wants to create a “better and more just country”.

Milanovic has targeted in particular Plenkovic’s recent appointment of a high-ranking judge as Croatia’s new state attorney general.

The appointment sparked street protesters over the judge’s alleged corrupt dealings.


READ: Serbia, Croatia expel diplomats and further strain relations

Adding to the race’s drama, Croatia’s top court barred Milanovic from running, since the presidency is largely a ceremonial office for a person without a political affiliation.

It said he would have to resign from his post first.

But Milanovic has refused and continued to crisscross the country in recent weeks campaigning against the HDZ.

Corruption anger 

If the SDP and its allies are able to win enough seats in the 151-seat assembly, Milanovic could then resign and be named prime minister designate — in what would be an unprecedented move in Croatia.

For now the HDZ continues to enjoy a steady lead in opinion polls, with around 30 percent of voter support compared to 20 percent for the SDP.

The conservative party has largely dominated Croatia’s political scene since its independence from Yugoslavia in 1991.

The SDP-led “Rivers of Justice” opposition coalition has vowed to wage an “uncompromising fight against corruption”, along with promises of “higher wages and pensions”.

“Nothing can be done anymore if one does not know the ‘person’, has a connection, or a party card,” SDP leader Pedja Grbin said at a recent rally.

Many Croatians agree, and fighting graft and fraud was key for Croatia’s entry into the European Union in 2013.

“Corruption is a key problem in Croatian society… but it cannot be resolved by election posters and campaigns,” law student Sebastijan Bujan, 26, told AFP.

Corruption has long been the Achilles heel for HDZ, following a swirl of accusations that has seen several ministers step down in recent years.


Plenkovic, premier since 2016, has highlighted his role in shepherding Croatia into the eurozone and Europe’s passport-free Schengen area.

As the country’s longest-serving prime minister, he routinely says a vote for the HDZ means “stability, security and development”.

But with an average monthly wage of 1,240 euros ($1,345) and gross domestic product at 76 percent of the EU’s average, Croatia remains one of the bloc’s poorest members.

Plenkovic, 54, has repeatedly accused Milanovic of violating the constitution and denigrating the country’s political culture with the use of inappropriate language, and of harbouring “pro-Russian views”.

Milanovic has repeatedly criticised the EU’s backing of Ukraine following Russia’s invasion of the country, while also saying the HDZ has failed to stem migrant arrivals.

He has also called Plenkovic a “liar and political fake” and an “errand boy” for European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen.

The rhetoric has found a receptive ear with many Croatians.

“At last we have someone who openly says what most people think,” Borko, a taxi driver in Zagreb who declined to provide his surname, told AFP.

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“Respect to Mr. President, he has my vote!”

TAGS: Croatia, Elections

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