On Sunday, 11th January 2015, Croatians people elected Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović as the new President of the Republic of Croatia, she is the first woman to hold this office. The January’s round was the runoff of the election held on 28th December 2014 which was slightly won by the outgoing President Ivo Josipović.
Grabar-Kitarović won 50.74% of the vote, while Josipović obtained 49.26% of the vote on a 59.06% turnout with 99.98% of votes counted.
Grabar-Kitarović is a member of the center-right Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), the main conservative and opposition party inside the Sabor (the national parliament), affiliated to the European People’s Party. In the nineties she worked as a diplomat for the Foreign Ministry; in 2003 she was elected to the Sabor and was appointed European Integration Minister inside Sanader’s cabinet. She started negotiations for the Croatia’s joining the EU. Two years later she was appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs and led the negotiation for the Croatian membership to NATO and EU. Following the 2007’s election she was replaced and joined the Trilateral Commission.
In mid-2014 HDZ proposed Grabar-Kitarović as its own candidate for the presidential election. Grabar-Kitarović run on a center right platform called “For a Better Croatia”composed by HDZ, Croatian Peasant Party (affiliated to the European People’s Party), Croatian Social Liberal Party (affiliated to the Alliance of European Liberal Democrats) and Croatian Party of Rights dr. Ante Starčević (affiliated to European Conservatives and Reformists). During the election campaign she warned the bad economic and social situation, the pessimism and lack of unity in the country, she also declared that she would use more actively the presidential powers.
The main opponent in the runoff was the outgoing president Ivo Josipović nominated by the center-left Social Democratic Party (SDP) headed by Prime Minister Zoran Milanović. He was member of the League of Communists of Croatia and wrote the statute of the SDP. In 2010 he became the 3rd President of Croatia, becoming the first social democratic president since the independence of the country. Josipović’s candidacy was supported by the government’s parties, SPD (affiliated to the Party of European Socialists), Croatian People’s Party (affiliated to the Alliance of European Liberal Democrats), Istrian Democratic Assembly, but also by the new green party Croatian Sustainable Development which came third during the 2014 European election. He intended to intensify his activities in national security, defence and foreign affairs.
Josipović accused Grabar-Kitarović of a bad conduction of the FM and to have dealt wrong policies during her ministerial term. She accused him of treason and corruption because Croatia withdrew only 25% of the EU available funds under his presidency. Josipović also accused HDZ’s proposal of constitutional amendments proposing the parliamentary election of the President because according to him this would have reduced the role of stability and control. An important issue was the veterans’protest carried on since October: Josipović declared that demands were justified but he also affirmed that they were manipulated by their leaders, who were politically motivated.
During the first round there were other two candidates: Sinčić and Kujundžić. Ivan Sinčić was a non-party candidate, activist of the civil society organization “Human Barrier”, an initiative that try to stop forced evictions. His program was based on a fight against illegal privatization and war profiteers. Milan Kujundžić was supported by the right-wing Alliance for Croatia, a coalition of right-wing and far-right parties constituted on the occasion of 2014 European election. The main party of the coalition is the Croatian Democratic Alliance of Slavonia and Baranja, a nationalist party based in the eastern region of the country. Kujundžić was a member of HDZ but left the party to found Croatian Dawn in 2013. In the same year he run for the chairmanship of HDZ and lost against the incumbent leader Karamarko. Kujundžić, presenting his electoral platform called for a new constitution which would state that Croatia was founded on the Homeland War (1991-1995), a new electoral system, new economic, social, foreign and energy policies. Moreover he supported a new regional policy as required by the biggest party of the coalition and a demographic revival making education and daycare available for children; another proposal was the creation of a Ministry for Croatians people living abroad, a very important community which can usually change the result of national elections.
Grabar-Kitarović and Kujundžić were concerned about the low budget for defence, regardless the NATO membership, justified by Josipović with the bad economic situation. Sinčić proposed to withdraw the Croatian participation to NATO missions, particularly supported by Kujundžić and Josipović, while Grabar-Kitarović declared that there was a need to valorize them.
One of the main issues was also the Bosnia and Herzegovina’s accession to the EU: a strategic interest for Croatia and Bosnian Croats according to Grabar-Kitarović. Sinčić declared that the accession would not be the solution for the political and economic crisis. A non-interference policy inside Bosnian politics was supported by all the candidates, who declared their support for the creation of a third entity only if there would be an agreement among the three constituent peoples. Regarding the Serbian access to the EU Sinčić supported the idea that Croatia should make it conditional on cooperation on war crimes; Josipović and Grabar-Kitarović declared not to be against the accession, but according to them Serbia would meet all the same criteria met by Croatia.
The turnout at the first round was 47.12%: Josipović arrived first receiving 38.46% of the vote, strictly followed by Grabar-Kitarović who received 37.22%. Surprisingly Sinčić gained the third position obtaining 16.42% while the last position was occupied by Kujundžić who obtained only 6.30% of the vote. After the vote Grabar-Kitarović expressed her opinion about the need of a new demographic policy because of the emigration of nearly 20.000 young and educated people. On 8th January the former candidate Sinčić and other members of Human Barrier were arrested while they were trying to prevent the eviction of a war veteran in Zagreb. In the second round, held on 11th January the turnout was 59.06%, Grabar-Kitarović gained 50.74% of the vote while Josipović obtained 49.26%. The supporters of Kujundžić voted for Grabar-Kitarović, while Sinčić’s ones were invited to sign the ballot paper with the name of their candidate, making invalid their vote but preventing any manipulation.
Grabar-Kitarović won with around 60% of vote in Dalmatia and Slavonia, she obtained a slightly victory in Zagreb and in the nearby constituencies. Josipović won with more than 60% of vote in norther regions bordering with Slovenia and Hungary and also in Istria and Rijeka county. An overwhelming winning was obtained by Grabar-Kitarović in the constituency reserved for the Croats living abroad: 91.11%. Maybe it can be explained as a reaction to the electoral reform approved by Milanović’s cabinet, supporter of Josipović, which limited the vote abroad to consular offices, limiting the polling stations in Bosnia and Herzegovina: during the first round in BiH voted 7372 people, while in 2009 there were 50859 voters.
This election gather a lot of records: for the first time a woman has been elected President, for the first time the outgoing President is not confirmed for a second mandate and Grabar-Kitarović is the first HDZ ‘s President after Tuđman. At the end of the year there will be a parliamentary election and many changes will appear at political level. Ivan Sinčić has declared that Human Barrier is ready to run at the election as a new party, it can affect the political system, based on a bipolar system developed around the main center-right HDZ party and the main center-left SDP party, surrounded by minor parties affiliated to the main ones. Sinčić hasn’t turned Human Barrier in a political party yet. This still makes, to this day, impossible to understand the effects on the voters; it’s difficult to estimate how many votes can obtain his political list and opinion polls still don’t consider Human Barrier in their statistical analysis.
Milanović’s cabinet will probably be rejected, due to the economic crisis which is affecting Croatia, as well as the other Balkan countries, since 2008. The government, just after the defeat of the presidential contest, approved a law that wrote off the debts of around 60 thousand people. The cost of the measure is around 46 million euro and has been defined has an electoral action, with the purpose of raising the support for the SDP.
HDZ is probably expected to be the winner of the next election but for 2015 the SDP-led cabinet will rule alongside with an HDZ-president. The Republic of Croatia president’s role is merely ceremonial, but the cohabitation will probably be hard, especially if Grabar-Kitarović will be obliged by her role to sign many other laws that can affect the electoral support for the government. A difficult cohabitation will probably mean a polarization of the political arena and a mutual feeling of mistrust between the government and the highest office of the State, undermining the institutional role of the President; these events can become the basis for Presidency role switching, as it was proposed by right-wing parties and Kujundžić’s supporters, but also a change in the electoral system, as proposed by HDZ who has suggested an indirect election of the President.
In the next election HDZ will not be able to win thanks to the votes of diaspora that benefits of only three seats inside the Sabor, the national parliament. With respect to the eight lawmakers reserved to ethnic minorities, according to the law about the minorities’ rights only Serbs will be able to elect their deputies and they will probably oppose to policies carried on by a conservative, partially nationalist, government.
Bachelor’s degree in European Policy and Integration (University of Padua)