Croatia (President) 2009
Croatia held the first round of a presidential election on Sunday, December 27. Croatia’s President occupies a largely ceremonial role, though he commands the armed forces, generally leads the country’s foreign policy and is in charge of nominating the Prime Minister following elections. Incumbent President Stjepan Mesić was first elected in 2000 and easily re-elected in 2005 and is not eligible to seek a third term.
Croatia’s President cannot be a member of any political party while in office, and these elections are much less ‘partisan’ than regular legislative elections. For example, Mesić was originally a member of the liberal centre-right Croatian People’s Party (HNS), which is a rather weak party in Parliament.
The Social Democrats (SDP), currently the main opposition to the right-wing government of the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), nominated Ivo Josipović, a rather moderate law professor at the University of Zagreb. Josipović has the support of the SDP’s leader, Zoran Milanović and was the party’s leadership preferred candidate over the controversial populist Mayor of Zagreb, Milan Bandić, re-elected earlier this year. Bandić has had very poor relations with Milanović, and he did not even run as a candidate in the SDP primaries. Instead, he announced his candidacy independently of his party, which led him to be expelled from the party. Ivo Josipović campaigned on an anti-corruption platform, and also attacked the government’s economic policies. Bandić, on the other hand, led a traditional populist campaign stressing that he focused on ‘work’ (his excuse for not attending a debate, the real reason being he’s a bad debater) and that he was not a traditional politician. Bandić also attacked Josipović as a the tool of Milanović, the SDP leader.
The nomination of the right also led to expulsions. The HDZ, which forms government nationally, has been hurt by the economic crisis and most recently the sudden resignation of Prime Minister Ivo Sanader in July 2009. Sanader, prior to his resignation, was considered a likely candidate for President, but following his resignation he endorsed former HDZ cabinet minister Andrija Hebrang. While there were no primaries per se, many analysts believed that Nadan Vidošević, a HDZ businessman, was also considering a run. Dragan Primorac, former Minister of Education, also resigned from cabinet in July 2009, apparently because he was not the party’s candidate. Vidošević announced his candidacy in September, and Primorac announced his candidacy in November 2009. Both were expelled from the party, and Hebrang later called them traitors to their party.
Other candidates included Vesna Pusić, the leader of the liberal pro-European Croatian People’s Party–Liberal Democrats, Miroslav Tuđman, son of former nationalist (HDZ) President Franjo Tuđman. Damir Kajin was the candidate of the Istrian Democratic Assembly, a regionalist party demanding a special status of autonomy for Istria. Josip Jurčević, a far-right candidate; Boris Mikšić, a right-wing populist who ran in 2005 (17.78%); Vesna Škare-Ožbolt, a former HDZ Justice Minister now a member of the Democratic Centre; and Slavko Vukšić of the Democratic Party of Slavonia Plain also ran.
Ivo Josipović (SDP) 32.42%
Milan Bandić (Ind-SDP diss) 14.83%
Andrija Hebrang (HDZ) 12.04%
Nadan Vidošević (Ind-HDZ diss) 11.33%
Vesna Pusić (HNS-LD) 7.25%
Dragan Primorac (Ind-HDZ diss) 5.93%
Miroslav Tuđman (Ind) 4.09%
Damir Kajin (IDS) 3.87%
Josip Jurčević (Ind) 2.74%
Boris Mikšić (Ind) 2.1%
Vesna Škare-Ožbolt (Ind-DC) 1.89%
Slavko Vukšić (DSSR)
Turnout was 43.96%.
The election is a strong victory for the SDP, whose vote share is similar to its current share of the vote in polls for the 2011 legislative election. While Hebrang’s third-place is a strong showing compared to polls showing him in fourth or even fifth, his 12% result is an absolute low for the HDZ nationally. Of course, his showing should not be spun into a massive defeat of the right: the three HDZ candidates together polled 29.3%. Furthermore, adding the results obtained by small right-wing (and far-right) candidates as well as the HNS-LD gives the ‘large right’ around 47.4% of the vote. Bandić, with 14.8%, performed relatively well, but he only won 15.6% in Zagreb, his electoral base.
Kajin’s strong showing, especially in Istria (35%) is rather interesting given that the IDS only won 18% in Istria in the 2007 election. Probably a result of turnout differences, since regionalist parties in Eastern Europe are largely dependent upon turnout for a good or poor showing.
Josipović goes into the January 10 runoff with an heavy advantage, piling up the endorsements, including incumbent President Mesić and Vesna Pusić. Bandić will likely continue his anti-SDP populist campaign, but he has limited reserves. Polling indicates that Josipović has 53.5% of voting intentions against 33.7% for Bandić, whose only hope is to pick up more right-wing support.