Political tensions in Croatia ahead of snap parliamentary elections

Political tensions are rising in Croatia ahead of this week’s snap elections. The pro-Russian president, who decided to run for a prime minister role, attacked the pro-European prime minister in the media.

President’s attack against Prime Minister

Croatian President Zoran Milanovic has criticized Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic for alleged corruption in the government and attempts to suppress opposition media ahead of parliamentary elections. This is probably his way of trying to weaken his political opponent before the vote.

Milanovic reacted to the publication of the Croatian portal Nacional, which obtained a recording of Plenkovic’s speech at a meeting of his center-right party, the Croatian Democratic Commonwealth (HDZ), Politico reports.

In this report, the Croatian prime minister allegedly complains about the media, which he calls an “axis of evil,” because of the lenient attitude towards Milanovic, known for his pro-Russian stance, and complains that he himself has become a target of a “left-wing media clique.”

“Andrej Plenković does not mind the looting of the state and the corruption carried out by members of the HDZ cartel for years,” Milanović posted on his Facebook page, referring to Plenković’s Christian Democratic Union. “But he is bothered by those who talk about it and the media that still freely write about his crime and corruption.”

The statement came on the eve of Croatia’s early parliamentary elections on April 17, which were triggered by mass protests against the HDZ government’s policies. The left-wing opposition, under the informal leadership of Milanovic’s Social Democratic Party (the successor to the Communist Party), opposes the ruling party.

Despite the stipulation of the Constitution, the President runs in the parliamentary election

In March, Milanović unexpectedly announced his candidacy for the post of Prime Minister of Croatia. Two days later, the Constitutional Court blocked his participation in elections until the end of the presidential term in February 2025.

Despite this, Milanovic refused to leave the presidency and continued to run for the SDP.

Some influential Croatian politicians, including former President Stjepan Mesić and former Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor, called on the president to resign if he wanted to run for the post of prime minister.

Milanovic instead decided to take advantage of a loophole in the law: it does not answer the question of whether an incumbent president can run for a parliamentary seat on a party list.

The Constitutional Court concluded that the President of the Republic of Croatia, Zoran Milanović, cannot participate in the political activities of any political party while performing his duties as President.

Prime Minister’s HDZ party leads in the polls

According to a March 10 poll, the conservative Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), led by Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic, has the most support from voters; 28% of respondents are ready to vote for the party, according to the latest polls.

The opposition Social Democratic Party has 10 percentage points less—18%.

Support for the right-wing Fatherland Movement and the center-right Most (Bridge) parties is about 8%.

Plenković has been heading the country since 2016, and he has been in office for the longest time since independence in 1991.

Why snap elections are important for the EU?

The election results in Croatia may be of significant importance for the European Union, a month and a half before the European elections, as well as for Ukraine in the context of the fight against Russian war aggression.

The current Prime Minister of the Croatian government, Andrej Plenković, supports Ukraine, and his opponent, President Zoran Milanović, has a reputation as the most pro-Russian president of an EU member state.

Milanovic is also known for his attempts to block Croatian aid to Ukraine; he criticizes NATO and the European Union; and his friends include pro-Putin Republic Serbska leader Milorad Dodik and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, known for their pro-Moscow stance.

In such a scenario, Milanovic and his party’s victory could lead to dramatic changes not only in foreign policy but also in attempts to change Croatia’s entire political architecture, which would not be popular with most Croats.

The system of parliamentary elections in Croatia

The national legislation stipulates that there can be a minimum of 100 members of parliament and a maximum of 160. In recent years, the parliament has had 151 members.

Representatives of national minorities hold eight seats, while the Croatian diaspora abroad elects three members.

Voting and election to Sabor is open to all Croatian citizens over the age of 18. Every four years, elections take place, with a threshold of 5%.

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