I'm breaking my (English language) blogging silence again. Just like on some previous occasions, it is because of the elections. Today, just like before, I am trying to record this post before the official start of electoral silence.
Croatia is going to hold parliamentary elections on Sunday. This is the seventh election since the introduction of multi-party democracy and probably the last before Croatia becomes member of EU. Most of foreign media is going to ignore it, though. The election date coincides with two, arguably, more important parliamentary elections - in neighbouring Slovenia (which is the first case of two ex-YU republics having elections on same day since 1990) and in Russia.
Another reason why this election doesn't create much attention is in general mood of Croatian public. The campaign was short and rather uneventful, which could be explained with the effects of global economic crisis. Parties, even the ruling HDZ, simply don't have financial resources to match spectacle created during previous elections.
More important reason for the lack of electoral drama is, just like during 2010 presidential elections, is its general predictability. According to each and every relevant poll, HDZ is going to not only lose, but lose convincingly.
This major defeat - or the second general election lost during party's history - is generally being credited to series of scandals involving Ivo Sanader, former HDZ leader the first Croatian prime minister ever to end up in jail because of corruption. His annointed successor Jadranka Kosor, despite valiant and, at first, successful attempts to distance herself from her former mentor and reinvent herself as anti-corruption crusader, failed to reverse gradual, but unstoppable decline in her party's popularity. At the very end, just like the beginning of official campaign, major media - some of them being former Sanader's cheerleaders - turned against HDZ. Coup de grace was made by chief prosecutor Mladen Bajić who formally started quite publicised criminal proceedings against the party as legal entity.
Major benefactor of that decline was, of course, its main rival SDP. Reformed Communist party, which ran Croatia as part as sole non-HDZ government between 2000 and 2003, could now consider itself quite fortunate for narrowly losing 2007 elections and thus dodging the responsibility for the effects of global financial crisis. Bad economy, which probably had more to do with Sanader's mysterious resignation in July 2009 than any corruption scandal, even played some part in campaign. Faced with continous slide into poverty and almost inevitable Greek-style collapse in very near future, electorate and parties simply couldn't afford to ignore it for the sake of more popular topics like ethnic and WW2-era ideological divisions.
In such circumstances, SDP didn't have to do much to win elections. Its leader Zoran Milanović obviously learned some lessons after his major blunders in 2007. He hired PR managers who wisely advised him not to engage in any major public activity and simply let HDZ get buried under the weight of bad economy. Furthermore, leaders of SDP, unlike 2007, decided to strengthen the ticket by co-opting its traditional allies among left-centre parties - Croatian People's Party (HNS), Istrian Democratic Assembly (IDS) and Croatian Party of Pensioners. The latter was part of Sanader's governments until 2009, which clearly shows that the writing on the wall for HDZ stood for rather long time.
SDP and its allies - known as Kukuriku coalition - are projected to win between 79 and 85 among 151 seats of Croatian parliament. This appears to be clear and absolute majority, something no party or major coalition ever achieved since HDZ in 1995. This also means that Milanović, when he gets to business of forming government, won't have to negotiate with over-demanding minor parties and now infamous ethnic members of Sabor who represent ethnic minorities (including Serbs, which, dutifuly supported HDZ until the last day).
HDZ, on the other hand, can expect between 39 and 46 seats. The only ally that they managed to snatch is Split mayor Željko Kerum whose Croatian Civic Party (HGS) is on their tickets in two Dalmatian electoral districts. This was the marriage of convenience, made despite increasingly bad blood between Kerum and local HDZ organisation in Split. HDZ need Kerum's votes to avoid embarrassment of losing their traditional Dalmatian stronghold, while Kerum, like any good merchant, calculated that, based on gerrymandering, election tressholds and D'Hondt system of proportional representation, could win three safe seats on HDZ tickets instead of betting on a very shaky one seat if going alone.
The rest (between 12 and 25 seats, not including 8 reserved for ethnic minorities) is going to be snatched by other parties. Among them, those belonging to the left side of Croatian political spectrum appear to have more chances for success than those on the right. The most successful appears to be Croatian Labour Party, led by former union leader Radimir Čačić, independent MP who defected from HNS and who charmed many with his clever brand of left-wing populism. The Right (or what goes for "right wing" in Croatia if HDZ is considered "right centre") is, on the other hand, to suffer because of many split tickets led by narcissistic leaders; conservative rural-based HSS is going to be punished for not fulfilling its promises for the sake of seats in Sanader's cabinet. The only bright spot for Croatian right-wingers is Slavonia, stronghold of HDSBB, regionalist party founded by convicted war criminal Branimir Glavaš.
The Sunday's election is going to be followed by EU accession referendum. It was originally scheduled for mid-January, but Vesna Pusić, future foreign minister and one of the most enthusiastic Europhiles among Croatian political establishment, announced that it would be held in mid-February. Polls indicate comfortable victory for the Yes camp.
Despite a rather rare spectacle of government change - that occurred only three times in living memory (1990, 2000 and 2003) - there is very little enthusiasm among general public. Croatian experiment with democracy in past two decades left many of country's citizens deeply disappointed or increasingly cynical. There is palpable feeling that the election itself won't solve any of Croatia's problems and that the worst of economic crisis is yet to come. It is almost certain that the average Croatian would live much worse at the end of 2012 that at the end of 2011; it is very probable that he or she would live much worse in 2015 that today.
It is quite easy to imagine embittered voters to quickly turn their backs towards their weak and ineffectual saviours, just as they did in 2003. On the other hand, SDP might remain in power for the simple lack of alternative. Regardless of what happens, HDZ - still compromised and despised - is going to be the only relevant opposition party and thus serve convenient bogeyman for ineffectual new government. The only thing that could change this sorry state of affairs is some form of coherent alternative of status quo forming among those 12-25 representatives who would come from different political options. In some 48 hours from now we should know whether such hope has some basis in reality or not.