European elections 2014: Croatia – old guard is back
For the second time in just over 13 months, Croatians will head to polling stations on May 25 to cast their ballots in European Parliament elections. As the latest addition to the European Union, officially formalised with its accession on July 1 2013, Croatia held an MEP election in mid-April 2013.
That time, the centre-right party HDZ sneaked a narrow win despite trailing in all opinion polls before the elections. Barely a year later, HDZ is once again lagging in the polls, albeit by smaller margins, and could benefit once again from a low voter turnout.
HDZ dominated Croatia’s domestic politics for most of the time since country declared independence in 1991, breaking away from Yugoslavia. The party suffered a heavy defeat in the parliamentary elections in 2011, in the wake of corruption allegations against its former leader Ivo Sanader and the party itself.
Sanader was found guilty of masterminding the diversion of money from state-run firms to a party “slush fund” when he was the country’s prime minister, in a trial concluded in March. He was sentenced to nine years in jail and the party was ordered to pay back 3.8 million euro.
And yet, despite its chequered track record, HDZ appears back on the rise – although that probably says more about the ruling coalition, spear-headed by the centre-left SDP, than HDZ itself.
The government has failed to spur economic growth in the aftermath of the global financial crisis, a situation that was made only worse by Croatia’s accession to the EU and the need to keep the budget deficit in check. The Croatian economy is expected to shrink for a sixth consecutive year in 2014.
Last week, prime minister and SDP leader Zoran Milanovic sacked the finance minister Slavko Linic, for authorising the ministry’s purchase of a property at an inflated price – hardly the best time for a government reshuffle, with the election campaign in full swing.
And with presidential elections due at the end of the year, the European Parliament vote becomes an important dry run for both the government coalition and the opposition HDZ.
In total, 25 parties and coalitions have registered for the election, with 11 MEP seats at stake. Among them, the coalitions around HDZ and SDP are expected to win the most seats, with the centre-left Labour party, greens Orah and nationalist Alliance for Croatia also likely to win at least one seat each.
(Photo of Zagreb by Vlado Sestan/sxc.hu)