July 5, 2020
The ruling HDZ took a surprising lead in the election and won 37.3% of the vote, or 66 seats out of 151. The Restart Coalition, led by the opposition Social Democrats, came in a distant second with 24.9% (41 seats) while the far-right party DPMS garnered 10.9% and 16 seats. The We Can green-left party won 7% (7 seats), a notable result for such a new grouping. Prime minister Plenkovic has announced he plans to form a coalition with the Croatian People’s Party (HNS), ethnic minority MPs, and the Reformist party (76 seats total). The coalition partners’ condition to join HDZ was the exclusion of DPMS from the majority.
- Unicameral legislature in a parliamentary constitutional republic; there are 151 seats in Croatia’s parliament, called the Sabor; members are elected to a four-year term.
- Members are elected though a party-list proportional vote; 140 seats are elected from multi-seat constituencies in Croatia, eight from minorities, and three from the diaspora.
- Voting threshold of 5% to enter into parliament (minority parties are excluded).
- Incumbent: The center-right Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), led by Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic, leads the ruling coalition with several smaller parties, including support from the Serbian minority party SDSS.
- Croatian Democratic Union(HDZ)—led by Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic; conservative, center-right; pro-European; the HDZ has brought forward these elections to capitalize on Croatia’s initial handling of the Covid-19 crisis, before the full economic impact occurs; unlikely to win an outright majority.
- Restart Coalition—lead by the Social Democratic Party (SDP), the country’s main opposition party; center-left; pro-European; its campaign centered on the need for economic and societal reforms which have been unfulfilled by the HDZ, and the coalition has also been highly critical of the government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic; also unlikely to win an outright majority.
- Miroslav Skoro Homeland Movement (DPMS)—led by singer Miroslav Skoro; nationalist, far-right; Skoro, who unsuccessfully ran for president, has united most of the right-wing opposition by criticizing the HDZ for being too centrist, pushing the HDZ to become more nationalistic in its rhetoric.
- Bridge of Independent Lists(MOST)—center-right; fiscally conservative; has lost momentum and voters to the Homeland Movement.
- Independent Democratic Serb Party(SDSS)—lead by Milorad Pupovac; SDSS is the main Serbian minority party in Croatia; center-left; pro-European; Pupovac is a frequent target of the Croatian far-right, as anti-Serbian rhetoric is on the rise; the HDZ has also come under fire from the far-right for partnering with the SDSS in the current government.
- We Can—left-wing, socially progressive, green-left; the party was founded in 2019 and currently holds only one seat in the Croatian parliament but is expected to gain in the upcoming election.
Impact on U.S. Interests
- Croatia has been a member of NATO since 2009 and contributes troops to NATO’s forward defense missions in Poland and Lithuania, as well as to NATO missions in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Kosovo. It spent 68% of GDP on defense in 2019.
- Croatia is building a floating liquid natural gas (LNG) terminal on the island of Krk, which will deliver natural gas to fellow EU members Slovenia, Italy, and Hungary, as well as to non-member states like Serbia and Montenegro. The project is supported by the United States and the European Commission as a means of diversifying gas supplies in Southeastern Europe. However, critics of the project claim it is not economically viable and that it will negatively impact the surrounding environment.
- Croatia is on course to join the U.S. Visa Waiver Program, which would allow Croatian citizens to travel to the United States without a visa (when health conditions allow).
- China has announced approximately $1.7 billion worth of investments in Croatia and in 2019 Croatia hosted the 17+1 Summit in Dubrovnik; a Chinese firm was controversially awarded the contract to help construct the Peljaesac Bridge, which will connect the Croatian mainland to the Dubrovnik region.
Key Issues to Watch
- Croatia’s economy is expected to contract by approximately 9% this year, particularly as the pandemic hits Croatia’s tourism sector, which contributes to 25% of GDP.
- Several prominent incidents of hate speech against Croatian Serbs have occurred, highlighting the tension in Croatian politics. Miroslav Skoro and members of his Homeland Movement have been prominent sources of anti-Serb and xenophobic rhetoric, which has helped draw votes from the HDZ. The Homeland Movement has declared that they would join a right-wing coalition government with the HDZ if SDSS is excluded from the coalition. Prime Minister Plenkovic has sought to condemn recent incidents of hate speech without alienating nationalists in his own party.
- Values-based issues have been at the fore of the campaign. Abortion (which is legal in Croatia) is a prominent issue, as members from the HDZ, DPMS, and MOST parties all expressed anti-abortion sentiments on the campaign. Miroslav Skoro went the furthest, insisting on a televised debate that he opposed abortion even in cases of rape. The comments have provoked a backlash among female politicians and activist groups.