Croatia’s ruling, centre-right party cruised to victory in Sunday’s (5 July) election despite concerns about coronavirus and the economy.
“Croatia is facing serious challenges which require from us responsibility, knowledge, and experience. That is exactly what we have offered to the Croatian voters,” Croatian prime minister Andrej Plenković said at his celebration rally in Zagreb.
“Our victory is not only great, but an obligation,” he added, amid an economic slump caused by a fall in tourism.
Plenković’s Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) party won 66 out of 151 seats in parliament, with 90 percent of the vote counted, leaving it 10 MPs short of an outright majority.
The centre-left Social Democrats and allied MPs came second with 41 seats, prompting an offer to resign by party leader Davor Bernardić.
A new nationalist party called Homeland Movement, led by a folk singer, Miroslav Škoro, known for misogynist and xenophobic remarks, came third with 16 seats.
“We’re on a good path and voters have recognised that,” Škoro said.
A new green-left party called Mozemo also did well, winning seven seats.
The HDZ has ruled almost without interruption since Croatia regained independence in 1991.
And Plenković had extra exposure due to Croatia’s EU presidency, which ended in June.
The European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, Croatia’s EU commissioner, Dubravka Šuica, as well as the centre-right leaders of Austria, Bulgaria, and Latvia also took part in a pro-HDZ video clip aired on Saturday.
But EU officials are meant to be politically neutral, prompting an apology by commission spokesman Eric Mamer.
“It was meant as a contribution in her [von der Leyen’s] personal capacity. Regrettably, this was not made clear in the final version of the video,” Mamer said on Sunday.
The Social Democrats also criticised Plenković for holding the vote despite a recent increase in coronavirus infections.
But Croatia’s election, the third one in Europe since the pandemic, was less controversial than the other two – in Poland and Serbia – where ruling parties were accused of serious violations.
Turnout in Croatia was historically low on 46 percent.
Voters were advised to wear masks and bring their own pens. They were urged to stay home if they had a fever.
People who were infected were allowed to vote by proxy. Officials with ballot papers also visited some 500 homes of voters in self-isolation, the AFP news agency reported.
Croatia, a country of 4.2m people, has reported 3,151 coronavirus infections and 113 deaths.
It is welcoming some 40,000 tourists a day, many of them German, with no self-isolation rules since it reopened borders on 1 July.
But tourist income remains 80 percent lower than last year so far, reports indicated, while Croatia’s economy is forecast to shrink 10 percent this year.