On January 5, Croatia elected Social Democratic candidate Zoran Milanović as its fifth President. Looking at the results of Croatian Presidential Elections, one may feel surprised to notice that despite several candidates ran for the position, the level of competition was very low. In the first round of Elections, there were eleven candidates running — all those who managed to collect the ten thousand signatures required to present their candidature. However, although eleven of them managed to do that, the results of the first round illustrate how in reality only three candidates were competing over the votes of Croatian public.

In the first round, Zoran Milanović received 29.55% of the votes, followed by Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović with 26.65% and Miroslav Škoro with 24.45%. Those three candidates alone took 80.65% of total votes. Following the first round, in the second, Croatians had a choice between Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović from HDZ (Hrvatska Demokratska Zajednica / Croatian Democratic Union) and Zoran Milanović from SDP (Socijaldemokratska Zajednica / Social Democratic Party). Though formally independent candidates, affiliations have been added because the candidates were formerly affiliated with these parties and have been continuously publicly supported by them. In the end, Milanović won the elections by hundred thousand votes more than Grabar-Kitarović, thus became the fifth President of Croatia.

With Milanović’s victory, a new trend is being observed and strengthened in Croatian politics. Again, as in 2015 elections, the incumbent was not reconfirmed. On the one hand, the fact that Croatia continues to be led by either HDZ or SDP raises question whether Croatia has ever truly become a democracy with such a minimal level of political competition,  because HDZ and SDP have been running Croatian parliament and have been occupying crucial positions in Croatian politics since 1990. On the other, the fact that leaders are not capable anymore of holding two terms and remaining in power for a decade, illustrates some kind of change in Croatian public voting and Croatian expectations. Yet, there is an additional factor to consider when looking at these elections, and in particular at Minalović’s electoral performance. Accordingly, the result can hardly be interpreted as a his and SDP’s victory, but more as a vote against Grabar-Kitarović and HDZ. Hence, to what extent Milanović and SDP truly have won is very questionable.

In fact, what strikes the most about these elections is the inefficiency of Grabar-Kitarović’s strategy. Along with HDZ, Grabar-Kitarović built her campaign on by encouraging Croatian public to choose ‘’right Croatia’’ (Prava Hrvatska), and then later on denying such big statements. Grabar-Kitarović and HDZ tried to gain support and maintain the narrative of common identity to a point that those who slightly or significantly disagree with them are automatically not part of the ‘’right’’ Croatia and betray Croatia. Ultimately, what Grabar-Kitarović and her team did was to focus solely on their loyal voters’ turnout. As a side effect, what happened is that Grabar-Kitarović’s rhetoric woke up the centre and the left oriented voters to vote against her. In other words, the fact that she did not focus on attracting new voters and expanding her support base ultimately enabled Milanović to win. While the strategy was rather weak and badly designed, it still must be acknowledged that Grabar-Kitarović did receive 47,34% of votes. Therefore, the right-wing support still significantly exists.

Croatia will hold Parliamentary elections in a few months, and new changes could be expected in that case as well. Nevertheless, for now what is certain and has been decided that the right-wing is out of office, and Zoran Milanović is the new President. He has five years to prove himself, and hopefully he will do so efficiently and in a way to better Croatia.

Image Source: Goran Stanzl/PIXSELL

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