Local Elections – Good News for Some, Bad News for Many

Total Croatia News

No major party can be completely satisfied with yesterday’s results, but there are silver linings.

The first round of the local elections is behind us. With over 500 separate elections in each local government unit, all parties can claim at least partial victory, but the general impression is that major parties have more reasons to worry than to celebrate.

In general, HDZ scored satisfactory results. It was not a triumph, but certainly not a disaster. As usual, it won the majority in numerous counties and smaller towns and municipalities. However, its results in major towns were below expectations. That particularly goes for Zagreb, where the official party candidate for mayor, Drago Prgomet, won barely over 5% of the vote. Many HDZ supporters voted instead for current Mayor Milan Bandić or independent candidate Bruna Esih, who was a symbolic candidate of the party’s right-wing faction, which did not want to accept the more moderate Prgomet, who was directly selected as the official party candidate by HDZ president and Prime Minister Andrej Plenković. The result for HDZ was a disaster and Plenković’s authority within the party will certainly take a hit. In Split, HDZ’s candidate Andro Krstulović Opara, who was considered a clear favourite just a few weeks ago, managed to enter the second round against former Mayor Željko Kerum, but is trailing by 4% and will have a difficult time winning in the second round on 4 June. HDZ’s candidate in Osijek also managed to enter the second round, but the advantage of the current Mayor Ivica Vrkić is so large that he is assured of winning. In Rijeka, HDZ’s candidate was third and is out of the running. Another blow for HDZ was the result of its candidate for mayor of Knin, Josipa Rimac, which is trailing behind independent candidate Marko Jelić and has little chance of winning. Knin is a symbolically important town for HDZ, but it now seems that it will be lost for the party.

The good news for SDP is that it did not experience electoral disaster, but that is the only good news. Their candidate and current Mayor Vojko Obersnel has a large majority in Rijeka and is certain to win in the second run, although some pre-election polls suggested that he might lose, which would be a catastrophe for the party, since Rijeka is its strongest major town. In Zagreb, SDP did not have its own candidate, but supported HNS’s Anka Mrak Taritaš, who is trailing current Mayor Milan Bandić by 6%, and will have a difficult time overtaking him in the second round. Importantly, in the elections for the Zagreb City Assembly, SDP has lost its first position which it held at many previous elections. Coupled with a dismal result in Split, pressure on party president Davor Bernardić will certainly grow.

MOST did not succeed in repeating the good result from four years ago, when the party was the breakout star of the local elections. In Metković, its main stronghold, its candidate did not manage to win in the first round, and has advantage of just two percent ahead of HDZ’s representative. Possible loss in the second round would be a major blow for the party. MOST’s candidates for county prefects in Split-Dalmatia and Dubrovnik-Neretva counties also posted disappointing results, although the party claimed they would defeat their HDZ opponents. In Zagreb, MOST’s candidate was last, with less than 2 percent of support. Obviously, MOST’s behaviour at the national level did not make voters more inclined to support them.

Živi Zid did not fare any better. Party president Ivan Vilibor Sinčić did not manage to enter the second round for the Mayor of Karlovac, while their candidate in Zagreb, Ivan Lovrinović, was seventh with just two percent of support. It seems that populist parties are losing their popularity, although it is not clear who is gaining those voters.

IDS was as strong as usual in Istria, while HSS managed to survive its decision to switch the coalition alliance at the national level from HDZ to SDP. Their candidates won where they were expected to, and party president Krešo Beljak won his election for Mayor of Samobor easily in the first round.

There are also some interesting individual results. For example, the outgoing Split Mayor Ivo Baldasar was dead last, winning just 553 out of 68,000 votes. Independent candidate Sandra Švaljek did not manage to enter the second round in Zagreb, although the polls showed that she was the best candidate to win against Bandić in the second round. She was about 17,000 votes behind Mrak Taritaš. There were also a few interesting comebacks. In Varaždin, former Mayor Ivan Čehok returned to politics in style, with over 40 percent of votes won in the first round. He is certain to win in two week’s time, despite ongoing investigations and indictments against him, which made him even spend some time in prison. Obviously, legal proceedings against politicians do not seem to matter to voters. Another interesting comeback story is the one about former Deputy Prime Minister Radimir Čačić, who managed to enter the second round of the race for Varaždin County Mayor by just 16 votes. He resigned from government a few years ago after causing a traffic accident in which two people lost their lives.

What follows are two more weeks of election campaign in those municipalities, towns and counties which have not elected their mayors and prefects in the first round. But, now, the focus will once again slowly turn to the national level politics, where it is still not clear what we can expect. The ruling majority does not really exist at the moment, and Prime Minister Andrej Plenković will have to find new partners, after his coalition with MOST collapsed. Yesterday’s results will certainly not make his job any easier. The debacle of his personally selected candidate in Zagreb will weaken his position within the party, while the success of Bruna Esih will make the party’s rightwing faction more aggressive. The three MPs which support Esih (including herself and former HDZ presidency member Zlatko Hasanbegović) will now feel more confident that they can stop supporting the government and in that way provoke new elections. Also, after HSS’s good result, the chances of the party changing its course and again supporting HDZ at the national level are not particularly good. It seems that the options for a stable new ruling majority for HDZ are fading, and early parliamentary elections in the autumn now seem even more likely than before.

What would happen at those elections is anybody’s guess. HDZ will have a problem on its right flank, particularly after Hasanbegović and Esih said they would run their candidates in all the parliamentary constituencies, and not just in Zagreb like yesterday. That will certainly take a lot of votes from HDZ. On the other hand, despite avoiding a disaster, SDP looks weak, just like MOST and Živi Zid.

The next few weeks and months in the Croatian political scene are certain to be quite interesting.


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