Controversial Croatian President Milanović Challenges PM in Upcoming Election

Croatia's 2024 elections pit the ruling conservative HDZ against the populist President Milanović's SDP coalition. A Milanović victory could shift Croatia's foreign policy, with implications for the EU and Ukraine.

Trim Correspondents
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Controversial Croatian President Milanović Challenges PM in Upcoming Election

Controversial Croatian President Milanović Challenges PM in Upcoming Election

Croatia's parliamentary elections on Wednesday, April 17, 2024, are shaping up to be a contentious battle between the ruling conservative Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) led by Prime Minister Andrej Plenković and the opposition coalition led by populist President Zoran Milanović and his Social Democratic Party (SDP). Milanović, who has been compared to former U.S. President Donald Trump due to his confrontational style and anti-establishment rhetoric, has taken a leading role in the opposition campaign despite the constitution prohibiting the president from engaging in political activities.

Milanović, a former SDP prime minister from 2011 to 2016, has veered to the right in recent years, adopting an increasingly Eurosceptic and nationalist stance. He has clashed with the European Union, refused to extradite former Yugoslav secret service officers, and blocked military training for Ukrainian soldiers in Croatia. Milanović has also been a vocal critic of the Plenković government, accusing it of corruption and attempts to suppress opposition media.

The Constitutional Court barred Milanović from running for prime minister while still serving as president, but he has found a loophole by running for a parliamentary seat on his party's list. If the SDP-led coalition wins enough seats, Milanović plans to resign from the presidency and be named prime minister designate, a novel move in Croatian politics.

Why this matters: The outcome of the Croatian election could have significant implications for the European Union and the ongoing war in Ukraine. Milanović is seen as the most pro-Russian president of an EU member state, while Plenković supports Ukraine. A Milanović victory could lead to dramatic changes in Croatia's foreign policy and political terrain.

Polls suggest that while HDZ is expected to win the most seats, around 60, it may fall short of a majority, leading to uncertainty about post-election alliances. Milanović has proposed a "government of all against the HDZ," but the idea of an alliance with the extreme right is causing discontent within the opposition. The short 30-day election campaign period has added to the unpredictability of the outcome.

The election has been marked by a heated confrontation between Plenković and Milanović, with the president calling the Constitutional Court "illiterate peasants" for its ruling against his candidacy. Plenković has warned that a Milanović government would align Croatia closer to Russia and move it away from the EU mainstream. As Milanović continues to defy constitutional norms and engage in provocative rhetoric, the upcoming vote is seen as a test for the country's political terrain and the president's populist appeal .

Key Takeaways

  • Croatia's 2024 elections pit ruling HDZ against opposition led by populist President Milanović.
  • Milanović, a former PM, has shifted right, clashing with EU and blocking Ukraine aid.
  • Milanović plans to resign presidency and become PM if his coalition wins enough seats.
  • Outcome could impact EU relations and Ukraine war, with Milanović seen as pro-Russian.
  • Polls suggest HDZ may fall short of majority, leading to uncertainty over post-election alliances.