Over the last few months, Croatia has been preparing for its presidential elections, and by now the names and the programmes of the contenders are already public. However, to actually become an eligible candidate that people can vote for, one must collect ten thousand signatures in the period between 22 November and 3 December 2019. Only after that, in case they have managed to collect ten thousand signatures, the candidates go through the first round of presidential elections which are to be held on 22 December 2019. Finally, on 5 January 2020 they will go through the next and final round.
As these important electoral appointments approach, it is still hard to say what expect from them. Indeed, the outcomes are quite difficult to predict because candidates are really diverse and some of them are truly challenging the existing political structure and the elite that has ruled the country for decades. In this context, it is hard to say how people have been perceiving these presidential campaigns and whether they are ready for core changes. However, while it might be hard to assess where these elections are bound, information which is currently available on the candidates still provides a very insightful picture of the illnesses and the needs of Croatian political system.
Amongst the potential candidates, the names who are receiving the most attention are those of current Croatian president Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović, Miroslav Škoro, dr Dejan Kovač, Mislav Kolakušić and ‘’Milan Bandić’’.
Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović has confirmed she will be running for her second mandate, and on 11 November she published her presidential candidacy programme with emphasis on “Croatian development”, “Croatian identity”, “Croatian determination”, “Croatian justice”, “Croatian democracy”, “Croatian safety” and “Croatian optimism”. Quite evidently, she is using a very patriotic and emotional approach in her campaign, where she continuously tries to portray herself as the “mother of Croatia” or a “safeguard of Croatia”. Needless to say, true caring is certainly a good characteristic for a leader, however, stating what actions need to be taken in order to achieve all those Croatian goals would be much better. It is true that Croatian politics are still dominated by a very emotional approach, and generally speaking emotions and feelings of belonging to the state cannot and should not be separated from the politics. Nevertheless, they certainly should not be the main and only axis of convincing people. Proper arguments presenting potential solutions, and even the acknowledgement of the practical difficulties in achieving such goals, would work better in building Croatian, hopefully brighter, future.
The second candidate, Miroslav Škoro, caught everyone by surprise with his candidacy. Škoro, a well-known singer with no political experience, immediately received attention for his harsh attacks on Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović and his provoking statements. From the very beginning, he claimed he will use the role of the president properly and not just to be someone else’s ‘’yes man’’ who does what he is told. This is quite a paradoxical statement, considered that in the past he openly supported HDZ (Hrvatska Demokratska Zajednica / Croatian Democratic Union) which Grabar-Kitarović was part of and nowadays still gets support from. HDZ’s actions and scandals have been well-known for years now. Therefore, it seems like Škoro supported HDZ when it was appropriate for him because HDZ has been Croatian leading political party that took initiative in fighting for Croatia’s independence and remained in power for decades. Yet, as of 2019, HDZ has had so many scandals that is hard to keep count of them, and attacking HDZ is good to boost own confidence and demonstrate own supposed excellence.
Even the third candidate, Dr Dejan Kovač, is a newcomer. Kovač has a PhD in economics and holds a position at Princeton University, one of the most prestigious universities in the world. Kovač has a very modern and direct approach. He wants to modernise Croatia and leave past in the past where it belongs. Unlike most candidates, Kovač does not just point out what is wrong in and with the system, but also explains the steps he would take and changes he would push forward in order to achieve desired goals. That type of approach is excellent as it builds awareness of the concrete measures to be taken and pushes the Croats to be part of these changes. Implementing, bringing and seeing such core changes is not easy but Kovač’s approach, which resembles of a student study guide, is yielding result in making difficult problems more understandable to common citizens. Wasn’t this enough, dr Kovač has been the only presidential candidate who has publicly allowed overview of his candidacy financing and donations, and with these actions he has been gaining support and trust of potential voters. However, Kovač is still rather unknown to the Croatian public, therefore, it is hard to determine his chances of becoming a president.
Mislav Kolakušić is a former judge who is famous for fighting corruption and being very vocal about the current Croatian political elites’ abuse of power and undermining the law. In the latest European Parliament elections, Kolakušić has managed to become one of Croatia’s MEPs despite having a relatively short career in politics. Therefore, becoming president is not an unrealistic goal. Kolakušić emphasises lack of justice, morality and equality in Croatia and Croatian proper formal democratic practices as his main arguments, and it is something the vast majority of people can relate to and understands. Hence, people support him. Moreover, the fact that Kolakušić stepped down from his position of a judge demonstrates his commitment and willingness to sacrifice years of hard work for something higher, for something more important than just having a good job and career. To Croats, he is one of the few examples of what it means to work for the people, and not just for the state. Such an example is deeply needed in a country like Croatia, where the people and the state seem to be two completely different entities.
Former actor ‘’Milan Bandić’’ or Darijo Juričan is also a new face in politics. Currently it is unknown whether he is temporarily part of the political game to point out the tendencies in Croatian politics, or whether he plans on permanently participating in politics. Either way, Juričan has attracted attention and support. Quite provokingly, Juričan has legally changed his name into Milan Bandić, the exact full name of the Croatian Capital’s Mayor Milan Bandić. The Mayor of Zagreb is famous for his corruptive endeavours which he successfully conducts due do holding the position of Mayor for almost two decades. With his campaign ‘’Želim biti Milan Bandić / I want to be Milan Bandić’, Juričan is ironically claiming he wants all people to be included corruptive and illegal actions. He wants all layers of Croatian society to be able to enjoy the fruits of corruption just like Croatian politicians are enjoying.
His campaign has received people’s support because it is simply a reflection of Croatian political reality, except he is saying those things out loud. Juričan’s candidacy is funny, sad and concerning. It is funny because seeing his posters and public appearance coming with statements such as ‘’Corruption even for a regular everyday person’’ is simply amusing. However, it is also sad because corruption and using the State as a vehicle for personal gains is a public secret. Finally, it is concerning because, quite obviously, politics is not a joke. Yes, his campaign brings out a few sad giggles from people, but what if he actually gets elected just like current Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky has. Zelensky went from being a comedian to acting like a president to being a president. Same could go for ‘’Milan Bandić’’. Although his chances for being elected president are low, still it is worth thinking about it, because making fun of Croatian reality and pointing out absurdity Croats are putting up with is one thing, but actually being a president, running a country and bringing changes into the system is a completely another story. People support his campaign, but if he gets elected, people will demand more than just jokes.
How to evaluate these presidential elections so far? The candidates are diverse, but still there are some politicians try to stay relevant and take over new position regardless of their past actions. Some parts of the presidential campaign have been sad and entertaining simultaneously. For instance, interaction between Škoro and Grabar-Kitarović at the beginning closely reminded of American politics, in that the candidates seemed to care more about entertainment and getting attention without actually talking about the programme and necessary actions. Fortunately, this has not become a pattern and has not spread around during the presidential campaigns and elections. A more serious approach is now visible, yet it is still to be seen how candidates will act as the signature collecting phase and first round elections approach.
Predictions? Certainly it is difficult to evaluate. Some candidates will gain votes simply because they target certain audience based on emotions. Some are truly trying to call for implementation of change while others with their candidacy are mocking the current system, yet they are taking all necessary steps seriously in order to become president. Therefore, it is hard to differentiate between irony and serious commitment. However, no matter who the candidates are, what is important is that Croats realise voting is their most powerful democratic tool, and they should use it.
Cover picture: [Croatian Presidential Building] Official Website of the Croatian Government