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EU Election, Day 3: Croatia’s Political Establishment Watches with Nervous Anticipation

Despite falling popularity, the centre-right HDZ (EPP) and centre-left SDP (S&D) are projected to retain most of their seats in the European Parliament. But the emergence of several new political parties polling uncomfortably close to Croatia’s 5% electoral threshold could shrink their leads. The country could be in for a political shock – or many – on Sunday.  

Since Croatia’s first democratic elections in 1990, the HDZ has ruled Croatia for all but seven years. It has come first in the past two elections as well, though the party’s base of support has precipitously declined. But the years of corruption scandals and general socio-economic problems have only damaged the party, not destroyed it, and it is set to come first in yet another national election.

The centre-left SDP has been the only other party to win a national election and has similarly been criticized over the years for corruption and mismanagement, which has left the party unable to seriously challenge the HDZ in recent years. Regardless it is projected to come second with 3 seats, down from 4 in 2014, but could win just 2 depending on the performance of the smaller parties.

We project the HDZ to pick up 5 seats, down from 6 in the last election. But in the last election the HDZ was part of a larger coalition, meaning it only actually won 4 seats, so it could actually gain from this election. That despite their share of the vote projected to decline from over 40% in 2014, to less than 30%. The HDZ is particularly adept at mobilizing voters, especially from the diaspora which do not appear in any polling figures but represent a significant base of power for the HDZ. Additionally, a large reason they will probably still pick up so many seats is the fractured nature of the opposition – particularly from the right.

Former HDZ members have formed several parties to the party’s right, most notably NHR (ENF/EAPN) and HKS (ECR). HKS currently has one MEP, after they broke from the HDZ. Neither of these parties though are projected to win any seats though, but that does not mean it could not happen. NHR has polled above the 5% threshold in the most recent poll from 2x Komunikacije, with HKS polling just below. Several more right-wing parties exist and have put forward candidates but have no chance of scoring any electoral victories.

Joining the two right-wing parties at the 5% threshold are two independent lists, that of anti-corruption activist Mislav Kolakušić, and that of former HSS (EPP) member Marijana Petir. Several more parties are polling below 5% but since they have not polled above 5%, they are unlikely to win seats in any case. But besides these four minor parties, three smaller parties are almost certain to win one seat a piece.

The conservative-reformist party MOST (ECR), has consistently maintained a support base between 7% and 15% since its entrance to the national political scene in 2015, so it would be a shock if it did not meet the threshold. The same can be said for the Amsterdam Coalition (ALDE) of seven liberal parties, which have come together to contest the European election. But while they were polling nearly 15% in late 2018, their support has crashed, leaving them just above the threshold, certain to win one seat but no more.

The biggest wild card was thought to be Živi Zid (EFDD), which champions a style of syncretic anti-establishment politics similar to the Five Star Movement in Italy, with whom they have allied with at the European level. The party has welcomed a bizarre mix of political influences, drawing support from discontent with the traditional ruling parties, but does not seem like it will capitalize on it much in these elections. We project they will get one seat, with other parties further on the right and independent candidates stealing many of the anti-establishment votes Živi Zid relies on.

The question of turnout is ever-present when it comes to EU elections in the new Eastern members. While Croatia boasts higher turnout than Slovakia or Czechia, in 2014 just 25% of people showed up to vote, making polls far more unreliable. In the previous election polls underestimated the HDZ’s support by over 10%, and a similar effect in this election would probably crowd out the smaller parties which are hovering around the threshold. Nevertheless, the rise of these new parties offers the potential for a number of shocks on election day, even if it doesn’t show in our projection. 

(Edited by Euan Healey)