By Fjola Muratović (University of Zagreb)

This year in Croatia will certainly pass in the spirit of elections and election results, because in addition to the parliamentary elections held on April 17, the European elections are scheduled for June and the presidential elections for December. The pre-election campaign was short and intense, while judging by the results, the coalition agreements after the elections will be long and intense.
Voter turnout was higher this year, which means that citizens were aware that each vote can decide the number of mandates won in Parliament. According to data from the State Election Commission (SEC), 1,605,000 voters (50.60 percent) voted by 4:30 p.m., while four years ago, 1,150,000 voters (34.04 percent) went to the polls by the same time. Higher voter turnout, according to predictions, is in favor of the opposition. After processing 98.60% of polling stations, the situation with the number of mandates was as follows: HDZ – governing center-right 60, SDP (River of Justice) – center-left coalition 42, Homeland Movement – coalition of far-right parties 14, Bridge – right 11, We can! – green left 10, Istrian Democratic Alliance (IDS) – centre to left, regionalist 3, Focus – liberal political party 2, Independent Platform North – regional 1, National minorities get 8 seats in Parliament.

Pre-election campaign and Plenković-Milanović dichotomy
The two main rivals in these parliamentary elections were the ruling Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) and the Social Democratic Party (SPD). According to the predictions of many political analysts, the results of these elections could have implications for the results of the upcoming elections for the European Parliament in June and the presidential elections scheduled for December this year.
The dichotomy in political action in the Plenković-Milanović relationship is also reflected in the in foreign policy orientation, more precisely, if citizens support Plenković’s HDZ, they decide that the country will remain on the side of Ukraine and the West, on the other hand, if they put in power the center-left party of President Zoran Milanović, known for his ties to Russia may call into question his support for Ukraine.
It is precisely the complexity of international relations and the war in Ukraine that, I suppose, further determined voters not to vote for Zoran Milanović and his political option. They did not want to risk having a person in the European Council, where issues of common and foreign policy are decided unanimously, who is not always clearly determined whether Croatia should rely on the Brussels-Washington pillar or Moscow. That’s why significant support was given to HDZ again this time, even though political opponents criticized them in the campaign for corruption scandals, nepotism, lack of workforce, emigration of young people, the highest inflation rate in the Eurozone and the problem of illegal migrants along the border. This time, the fear of the strengthening of pro-Russian influence, as in Hungary and Slovakia, among Croatian voters, was definitely stronger than the fear of corruption, abuse of institutions and other challenges. Nor did the charisma of President Milanović, as the most popular politician, who gave a new look to the SDP campaign, even though the Constitutional Court formally ruled that Milanović cannot participate in the election campaign, unless he resigns, because the president should not be a party-political figure, did not allow this political option to win more mandates and achieve the desired result.

Who will join the government and who won’t?
Although the HDZ as a political option won the most mandates, the fact is that there are no absolute but only relative winners in these elections and that the post-election combinatorics will determine whether there will be new elections or whether a government will be formed. Currently, given the number of processed votes, it is difficult to predict who will have 76 parliamentary mandates (out of a total of 151), sufficient to form a government. It will be necessary to form coalitions, but unlike the 2020 parliamentary elections, when HDZ won 66 mandates, which in addition to eight representatives of national minorities (three Serbian representatives, one each Hungarian and Italian and three more who represent more other minorities) and two more or three individual representatives of smaller parties were enough for the majority, this time there are more possible scenarios.
One is that the HDZ and the Homeland Movement together form a government without minorities, but the number of mandates won will depend on that. There is also the option of partially disbanding the Homeland Movement, in which scenario the HDZ, part of the Homeland Movement and the minorities would have enough mandates.
Since Bridge and We can! (green left) do not want to join the coalition with HDZ, while the Homeland Movement communicates that they can work with everyone, except We can! and SDSS (Serbian Minority). Bearing in mind the above, there is also the less likely option of a broad coalition in which there would be SDP (River of Justice), Bridge and We can! and two or three other regionally strong parties.
The third option is a minority government in which We Can!, as they claimed before the election that they would be ready to support a minority government led by the SDP coalition in which they would not participate, but would support it.
If the political entities do not agree on the creation of a majority within the deadlines prescribed by the Constitution, there is also the option of callig the new early elections.
General impression after the election
The impression after the election, although the final results are still awaited, is that Croatian voters are ready for changes, but not for radical changes. That stability in foreign policy is more important to them than internal affairs, corruption, bad crisis management. There is still not much room for party democracy as long as HDZ and SDP are dominant political subjects, as they are often called in political discourse, “two poles of the same political subject”, created on the foundations of Tito’s one-party system and based on the deep-rooted idealization of the first president of the sovereign and independent Republic of Croatia, Franjo Tuđman, the myth of the creation of the state and the sacrifice made (homeland war). If the HDZ succeeds in forming a government, this would be the third mandate to form a government, which is not a good signal for democracy, because the government has not changed for many years (we had similar examples of the 30 years of rule of the Democratic Party of Socialists in Montenegro, the previous 12 years of the rule of the Srpska progressive party in Serbia, which won power again in the 2024 elections). Leaving aside the bureaucratic irregularities, to which the citizens indicated that prevented them voting, numerous affairs that were highlighted in the election campaign and all other things that are not in favor of democracy. The conclusion is that there will be no substantial changes for democracy until a certain group of politicians is sent to political retirement, and their political postulates and practice to the political past.
The two parties that could decide who will rule Croatia for the next four years are the right-wing ones, Bridge and the Homeland Movement, which will probably further influence the popularity and strengthening of the right-wing in this country, following the example of other EU countries in the coming period.

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