There are a lot of indications that the prime minister is getting ready to go to the polls.
Will Croatia go to early parliamentary elections this autumn is the central political question these days, but no one knows the answer for sure. One thing is certain: the rumour that Prime Minister Andrej Plenković is thinking about having elections in September has not been leaked to the media for no reason, reports Jutarnji List on May 8, 2018.
Perhaps this is just a warning to dissatisfied HDZ MPs who have refused to support the government and vote for the Istanbul Convention ratification, a way to let them know that they should not distance themselves from the party leadership since otherwise they will never be nominated as party candidates again.
Still, it seems much more likely that Plenković is actually considering calling the election since much of what he has been doing recently looks a lot like an election campaign. Over the past months, local projects worth billions have been signed throughout Croatia. The construction of the Pelješac Bridge is about to begin, and just this Friday the government went to Split to announce contracts worth about 1.5 billion kuna. There is also the Slavonia project, launched in the eastern part of Croatia to secure 2.5 billion euro from EU funds exclusively for projects in five Slavonian counties. The government also recently gave state land to the town of Rijeka.
The prime minister has also announced a state budget review in July, which will see an increase in financial support for families with children, while war veterans have already received their increased benefits. It is also expected that another successful tourist season would be counted as a plus to the ruling coalition by voters.
On the other hand, HDZ is not looking particularly good in the latest opinion polls. According to Crobarometer, HDZ has the support of 27.6 percent of voters, which is almost two percentage points worse than in March. This is also the lowest support for the party since the last parliamentary elections. According to the Cro Demoskop survey, HDZ is at 26.4 percent, which is also the worst result since the elections. SDP is at 20.7 percent, and Živi Zid at 12.7 percent of support.
Still, in the last 20 years, HDZ has often achieved better results at elections than forecast by the polls. Also, the existing electoral system favours the leading party, which is HDZ in most constituencies.
Everything, therefore, depends on Plenković’s assessment whether it is better to depend on a thin majority in parliament for another two years, whether he is willing to risk a possible breakdown in Agrokor and whether he wants to wait for new far-right attacks against him. Another two years of constant pressures would dramatically hamper the launch of reforms demanded by the European Commission.
Plenković could find himself in the position of Zoran Milanović, but SDP at least was able to count on a considerable majority in the parliament, while HDZ now depends on indicted MP Tomislav Saucha and a few independent MPs who are not very trustworthy. Also, it is expected that 2019 will bring slower economic growth, so the ruling coalition would enter the regular election year with the stigma of economic decline.
While most of the media like to present Plenković as an indecisive politician, believing that he will not dare bring down the government, perhaps the actual truth is different. He was decisive when he broke a coalition with MOST and defended Finance Minister Zdravko Marić. Also, despite fierce attacks from conservative and clerical circles, he did not waiver in the ratification of the Istanbul Convention. These examples show that Plenković can make a decision when faced with severe risks, despite his public image.
In any case, the decision is in his hands. There is a risk in calling the elections, but at this point, it is not clear why it would be worthwhile for Plenković to wait for another two years since no one can know what will Croatia look like at that time.
Translated from Jutarnji List (reported by Robert Bajruši).