Possible Candidates for Mayor of Zagreb – Bruna Esih

Total Croatia News

Local elections are still three months away, and the number of possible candidates for mayor of Zagreb is growing.

On 21 May 2017, voters in 20 counties, 128 towns and 428 municipalities in Croatia will go to the polls to elect county prefects, mayors and municipal mayors, as well as members of local assemblies and councils. Among thousands of local offices which will be elected, there is one which is of particularly importance – mayor of Zagreb. Many say that is the second most powerful position in the country, after prime minister. Zagreb is a political and economic centre of this highly centralized country, and its budget is second only to the state treasury.

While official candidates will be known shortly before the election, in the next several weeks we are going to present those whose names have been mentioned as possible candidates. One of them is Bruna Esih.

Bruna Esih is currently a member of Parliament. While she is not a member of any political party, she was elected as a candidate on HDZ’s list in the first parliamentary constituency (which includes a large part of Zagreb). Esih was placed low on the list, but she managed to enter Parliament due to a large number of preferential votes given by voters to her individually, which many consider to be a proof of her popularity among at least some sections of the electorate and another reason why she should consider running for the mayor.

Together with former Culture Minister Zlatko Hasanbegović, Esih is a newly-minted start of the right part of political spectrum. Before entering politics, they used to work together as researchers at the Ivo Pilar Institute, and they share a common political worldview. She first gained prominence when she became one of the strongest proponents of lustration of members of former communist regime in Croatia. In 2015, she was selected by President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović to be her personal envoy at the annual Bleiburg commemorations in memory of victims of mass killings committed after the Second World War by partisan forces. The commemoration was considered to be too controversial for the President to attend personally (she came privately one day earlier), so Esih was sent there instead.

With Hasanbegović being appointed Culture Minister in January 2016 and the rightwing on the rise, Esih steadily gained popularity among more nationalistically minded voters. Although hardliner Tomislav Karamarko resigned as HDZ president in June, the new party leader, much more moderate Andrej Plenković, wanted to keep rightwing voters on his side, so he placed Esih, Hasanbegović and several other similar candidates on electoral lists for early parliamentary elections in September.

There are several controversies involving Esih, including the fact that she has not received a Ph.D. even after working as a researcher at the Institute for 15 years, although she was obliged to do it within six years. It also does not appear that she published enough scientific papers during that period to keep her official scientific status, but somehow she has managed to keep her employment with the Institute until she became professional politician.

Regarding her possible candidacy for mayor of Zagreb, if she decided to run she would probably do it as an independent candidate, with or without the support of HDZ. The party’s support would substantially increase her chances, however it is unlikely that the party leadership, in particular Prime Minister Plenković, would want to have such a hard-line candidate in Zagreb, where usually much more moderate candidates achieve better results.

The second option is for her to run without party support. Since she is not an official member of HDZ, she could do it, but that would probably mean that she would have to leave the HDZ Parliamentary Group and officially become an independent MP. In that case, she would take some of the rightwing voters from HDZ’s official candidate, as well as from the current Mayor Milan Bandić, at least in the first round of voting. However, in that case it is unlikely that she could manage to win enough votes to enter the second round of voting, which includes only the top two candidates from the first round.

Of course, it is perfectly possible that Esih will decide to skip the local elections altogether, continue with her parliamentary activities, and wait for the atmosphere in the party to change and for hard right faction to again increase its influence.


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