On 8 November 2015, Croats will for the first time ever get a taste of a preferential voting system in their parliamentary elections. Voters will be able to circle the name of their preferred candidate on the List they vote for. Preferential votes will be valid for those candidates who receive at least 10% of the List total vote. Voter turnout hasn’t been great in the past and one wonders whether the newly installed preferential voting together with President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic’s appeal to the nation, particularly to the young and those who have stayed away from casting their vote at past elections, to vote and thus partake in the decision for the country’s future would change for the better the voter turnout on 8 November?
“The fate of our Croatia will be in your hands on that day,” said president Grabar-Kitarovic in her televised announcement of the date for 2015 general elections. “That is the day when the politicians are accountable to you and when democracy takes on its full sense. Having that in mind I invite you to attentively follow what the candidates are offering, what are their programs like and how they will affect your everyday lives for the next four years. I especially wish to invite the youngest voters and those who are voting for the first time. Do not allow others to choose for you. Croatia needs your fresh outlook and your participation in the most important act of democracy … Come out to vote, utilise your right and take ownership of responsibility…”
Although president Grabar-Kitarovic has in the same televised appearance called for the politicians and candidates to steer away from turning the election campaigns into “carnival of democracy”, to behave with political correctness, leave the “ashes of the past” behind and look at ways of creating a better future with joint efforts, the fact remains that all candidates, all political parties are in the race to win seats in parliament, to carry significant clout in a future government.
The president has also asked the media to use its potent influence on shaping attitudes responsibly and contribute ethically to the strengthening of social responsibility.
The way the political pre-election platforms have ignited in Croatia during the past months tells us that Croatia has failed to produce a strong third political option and Croatian government contenders are firmly standing at two camps, and the smaller political satellites if they have not already entered into a coalition with a bigger party will just fit in with whoever wins.
Croatia is nowhere near hammering nails into the coffin of the two party politics and helping new coalitions, alliances and horse-trading bloom even if there are a few emerging forces (Orah, the Reformists, Milan Bandic 365, the Bridge…) that could possibly steal notable thunder from the ruling Social Democrats/SDP (centre left) and the largest opposition Croatian Democratic Union/HDZ (Conservative/ centre right). To hammer nails into the coffin of the two party politics Croatian voters will need to develop into what President Grabar-Kitarovic recommends: look at what candidates are offering you; look at their programs. Sadly, the Croatian votes are still driven by “being against” rather than “being for” when casting their vote. Being for or against what communist Yugoslavia was and being for or against what Franjo Tudjman led (independence) still seem to sit at the back of the voter minds with SDP backers being those who are fighting against coming clean with communist crimes of the past even though they are increasingly thumping their chests with gestures of Croatian patriotism. These ashes from the past are difficult to sweep away and feed the fire of two party politics; feed the “against” vote as opposed the “for” one. It still seems easier for Croatian voters to say “I’m against him, them…” than “I’m for this and that…(program)”.
Croatian voters will decide on 8 November whether the current Social Democrat led government will enter a second mandate or whether Croatian Democratic Union/HDZ – led coalition will get a mandate and a chance to demonstrate that its slogan “Growth-Development-Employment” is actually different from similar striving other political parties are promising at elections and will bring positive results as opposed to empty promises that stem from a seemingly economic impasse.
Neither of the two major parties, SDP and HDZ, is expected to win enough seats, the 76 seats out of 151 needed to govern alone. They are teaming up with smaller parties instead and much will depend on which smaller parties have the best chance at local electorate to win power. This formula seems particularly important given that latest opinion polls, according to the Croatian news agency HINA, place Social Democrats and Croatian Democratic Union almost neck and neck – were the elections to be held beginning October the Social Democrats coalition would get 31.9% of the vote while Croatian Democratic Union and coalition would scoop 32.9% of the vote. In attempts to predict the election outcome the situation becomes more complex when one considers that both the leader of the Croatian Democratic Union (Tomislav Karamarko) and the leader of Social Democrats (Zoran Milanovic) are through opinion polls considered as the most negative politicians in Croatia.
The above polls seem to suggest that Croatia is in a de facto multi-party system when it comes to parliamentary elections, although the third option is still in tatters and competing egos. A third vote Conservative, a third vote Left wing, a third vote somebody else. That somebody else in more cases than not is a historical splinter from either HDZ or SDP and suffers from bad cases of inflated political egos which see no unity on the horizon. These opinion polls figures may not be counted on as projecting the general elections results in any certain terms but they do suggest that Croatia is bracing for another tug of war during elections where the number of voters against the other main party will decide who wins. The third option, that somebody else, is far too disjointed in terms of being a more or less homogeneous political body to pose a real threat to either HDZ or SDP, but picking out supporting threads from it will be the stuff that will most likely define the majority seat winner at November elections.
If you are planning to cast your vote for the future of Croatia on 8 November, wherever you are – do not forget to register to vote! I believe registrations close 28 October 2015. Voters living abroad should contact the nearest Croatian consular-diplomatic mission and obtain form or simply information how to register to vote.
Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)
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