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News 29 Sep 15

Leadership Credibility Key for Croatian Voters

Voter concerns over the economy, refugee crisis and credibility of political leaders likely to dominate Croatia’s general election, analyst predicts.

Sven Milekic
BIRN
Zagreb
Zoran Milanovic confronts strong opposition. | Photo by BETAPHOTO HINA Damir SENCAR DR

 

With parliamentary elections expected in November, the economy, the refugee crisis and voter trust in the main leadership candidates are likely to dominate the debate, says political analyst.

After parliament was dissolved on Monday, Croatian President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic will set a date for the election this week. The vote must be held within 30 to 60 days after being called.

As November 1 is All Saints Day, many commentators believe the vote will most likely be held between November 8 and 22.

Political analysts are predicting highly personalised campaigning as the two main party leaders, Zoran Milanovic, leader of the ruling Social Democratic Party (SDP) and TomislavKaramarko, leader of the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), battle to persuade voters they are most capable and trustworthy.

“It seems that now... the question of [leadership] credibility will be the key issue,” said retired professor of political philosophy at University of Zagreb and political analyst Zarko Puhovski.

“The question will be if Milanovic is credible with his attempt of going more to the right and if Karamarko is credible in his claims that Milanovic is a man that has no opinions whatsoever, except those that would bring him the win on elections.”

Puhovski said voters are likely to assess leaders’ credibility primarily on their handling of the refugee crisis and the economy. He isn’t, however, expecting detailed debates on the state of the Croatian economy, despite it being of primary concern to voters.

“The economy will also be a frequent topic... but since no one has clear opinions on the issue, no meaningful debate can be [had],” he said.

The current centre-left government, headed by the SDP and Prime Minister Milanovic, is seeking a second term in office. However, voter confidence in the party and its leader has been shaken by the government’s handling of the ongoing economic and refugee crises.

Battling with the economic crisis throughout its entire term in office, the SDP and the government as a whole has a poor public image, according to opinion polls.

However, pollsters note that voter approval of both is improving due to the recent modest recovery of the economy and the implementation of measures during the election year aimed at helping indebted and low income earners.

The continuing refugee issue will also be one of the keytopics in the campaign, with opposition parties accusing the government of not being prepared for the crisis.

The SDP has formed a pre-election coalition with its current coalition partners, with the exception of the regional Istrian Democratic Assembly, IDS. Croatia’s left-wing Labour Party and two smaller non-parliamentary regional parties have joined the SDP coalition.

Their biggest contender is a coalition on the right, led by the centre-right HDZ. HDZ president Karamarko has brought new issues into the political spotlight, such as the lustration of officials from the former, socialist-era Yugoslavia.

According to opinion polls published on Friday by Ipsospuls, the HDZ is still the most popular party with 30 per cent approval ratings, followed by the SDP with 25.3 per cent.

However, the SDP cut the HDZ’s lead by half in just one month, according to an opinion poll conducted by the same agency a month ago. Then, the HDZ had a 31.8 per cent popularity rate, with the SDP trailing at 23.2 per cent.

The HDZ coalition is also leading current polls, with an approval rate of 33 per cent, while the SDP coalition has 29.1 per cent. A month ago, the HDZ coalition had a popularity rate of 34 per cent among voters, while the SDP coalition had 28.2 per cent.

Official campaigning begins once candidate lists have been submitted to the country’s election committee and ends one day before the election is held.

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