Croatia on Sunday held an early parliamentary election in the shadow of the coronavirus pandemic.
With over 60% of votes counted, the outgoing conservative Croatian Democratic Union, HDZ, looked set to win 65 seats, according to the State Election Commission, DIP.
An exit poll conducted by Ipsos earlier in the evening put the HDZ in the lead with 61 mandates. The HDZ’s main rival, the centre-left Social Democratic Party, SDP, was placed in second with 44 mandates, according to the same survey.
The nationalist Homeland Movement was predicted to win 16 seats in the exit poll, putting it in third place, while eight seats were set to go to the Green-Left coalition and another eight to the conservative Bridge of Independent Lists party.
Earlier polls showed a close race between the two mainstream parties but it was uncertain who would win the most seats or who might be able to form a majority coalition in Croatia’s 151-member parliament.
“At the time, it looked like a smart move for the government to secure a stable majority without the previous coalition partners,” said Tena Prelec, a research fellow at the University of Oxford’s Department of Politics and International Relations.
“But the decision to lift the lockdown and open the borders too fast came back like a political boomerang: now the epidemiological situation in Croatia is deteriorating day by day.”
Amid uncertainty over how turnout could be affected, the DIP reported it stood at 34.04 per cent by 4.30 pm compared to 37.68 per cent by the same time in 2016. A low turnout could influence the incoming government’s legitimacy.
Croatia has two main political parties: the centre-right Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) and the Social Democratic Party, running as a centre-left coalition called the Restart Coalition.
The current ruling party is the HDZ under Prime Minister Andrej Plenković, however, the SDP recently won the mostly symbolic presidency in January, creating some balance between the two parties.
“Croatia has a peculiar party system in which the main two competitors have been present there in continuation from the very first election in 1990,” said University of Zagreb professor Nenad Zakošek. “It is very unusual in eastern Europe that the party system has not been totally altered.”
He thinks it is due to a “need for consensus between left and right” to emerge from the 1991-95 independence war and later to join the European Union.