The Croats voted on Sunday to hand over the helm to a new government that will face the economic fallout from the coronavirus at a time when renewed contaminations are putting outgoing Conservatives under pressure.
The election promises to be close between the ruling HDZ which faces a center-left coalition, with a nationalist folk singer in ambush.
Neither Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic’s HDZ nor the “Restart” coalition led by the Social Democrats (SDP) of Davor Bernardic seem to be able to win an absolute majority of the 151 seats of deputies, according to polls.
The “Patriotic Movement” of Miroslav Skoro, popular and populist singer, could therefore find themselves in the position of arbiter.
Uncertainties about the future dominate while the Croatian economy, highly dependent on tourism, is expected to shrink by almost 10%, the worst contraction in decades.
“The winner will face big economic problems in the fall. It’s not going to be easy,” explains theAFP Igor Ivic, 49-year-old economist.
Stability or change?
Andrej Plenkovic, 50, hopes that the gloomy times ahead will encourage voters to remain loyal to a party in power since 2016.
“We have to make serious choices and not quackery,” said the Prime Minister. “The Croatia doesn’t need experiments like with Bernardic or Skoro “.
The ruling party also highlighted its relative control of the health crisis. With around 110 dead and 3,000 infected, this Balkan country member of the European Union has avoided the explosive scenarios seen elsewhere.
But for two weeks, after almost zero or even zero assessments, a few dozen contaminations have been listed daily as at the initial peak.
In polling stations open at 05:00 GMT, masks were compulsory for assessors and recommended for voters, who were also asked to bring their own pens. Assessors went to the homes of some 500 confined voters wishing to vote.
Davor Bernardic, 40, accused the government of “deliberately endangering Croatia” by deciding to hold elections during the pandemic.
The opposition also seized the opportunity of a series of scandals involving the HDZ to denounce “the way of corruption”. “We are proposing clear changes for a fresh start for Croatia,” said the Social Democrat, slipping his ballot into the ballot box.
Miroslav Skoro, who could seduce the right wing of the conservative party disappointed by the moderate policies of Andrej Plenkovic, also claims to be “the only guarantor of change”.
The 57-year-old singer, who had won 20% of the votes in the last presidential election, returns back to back the SDP and the HDZ, “guarantee of bad governance”.
The conservative party, and to a lesser extent the SDP, have dominated Croatian political life since independence in 1991.
An investigation published Friday by Nova TV puts the conservatives and the center left side by side, with respectively 52 and 51 seats. In third position is the 18-seat “Patriotic Movement”, followed by the ultra-conservative Most (pont) and Mozemo (We can do it!) A coalition of the greens and left parties, with nine and six seats.
Neither the Conservatives nor the center-left are in a hurry to forge an alliance with the nationalist candidate, who is accused by the SDP of sexist remarks and nostalgia for Croatia’s pro-Nazi Ustasha past.
But analysts say the HDZ may have no other choice if it wants to form the next government.
In the meantime, many Croats want things to happen in a country that is undergoing massive emigration due to low wages and corruption.
“These elections are very important,” said Branka Tekavec, a 76-year-old retired teacher. “A lot has to change. We are not focusing enough on the Croatians who are leaving, on unemployment and low wages for young people.”
About 3.8 million voters are called to the polls. Results are expected late in the evening.
07/05/2020 12:03:41 – Zagreb (AFP) – © 2020 AFP