Gangland Elections

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Zoran Milanović caused a stir last month when he announced his candidacy for Croatia’s parliament as a member of the Social Democratic Party – with the goal of becoming prime minister.

The problem was that Milanović was the president of Croatia when he made his announcement.

As the Associated Press wrote, under the Balkan country’s constitution, the president is a nonpartisan figure who presides over ceremonies, schedules elections, and serves as an apolitical commander-in-chief of the armed forces. The nation’s constitutional court ruled that he must quit his current job if he intends to seek a new one in another elected office.

After the court’s announcement, the president wrote a short note on Facebook: “The rivers of justice are coming,” reported Politico. He has also called constitutional court judges “gangsters” and “a group of thugs” trying to suppress the prime minister’s political rivals, added Balkan Insight.

He said he would resign should he win the election on Wednesday. By Thursday morning, however, with over 94 percent of votes counted, the ruling Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) party had the largest haul of parliament’s seats, winning 60 out of 151 – although short of a majority.

Meanwhile, it’s not out of character for the plain-speaking populist to flout the rules to run against Prime Minister Andrej Plenković of the HDZ, say observers. What’s new in these elections is the level of vitriol between the two top contenders.

Plenković has run the country for much of the time since independence after the fall of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s. As Transitions Online explained, the HDZ is pro-European Union, pro-Ukraine, pro-NATO, and therefore anti-Russia. Milanović, on the other hand, is pro-Russian and should he win, aid to Ukraine will be in jeopardy.

In March, around 27 percent of voters supported the prime minister and the HDZ, while 33 percent favored the Social Democratic Party. Smaller left- and right-wing parties garnered less than 10 percent each in support.

After holding office for seven years, wrote Euronews, Plenković can boast of expanding the Croatian economy through tourism and a real estate boom, particularly along the country’s spectacular Adriatic coast. The country has also enjoyed extensive funding for its infrastructure and other areas since joining the European Union in 2013 and NATO four years earlier.

Corruption has marred Plenković’s administration, however, and eaten into his standings, as protests that broke out earlier this year highlighted. Croatia is the fifth-most corrupt member of the EU, according to Transparency International. Around 30 ministers have quit Plenković’s government amid corruption scandals, reported Reuters, quoting Zagreb University law professor Ivan Rimac. “There have been affairs linked to misuse of EU funds, losses in public companies,” Rimac said.

Plenkovic doesn’t seem to be changing his stripes, either. Watchdogs recently decried the appointment of Ivan Turudić a former judge, as Croatia’s new prosecutor general, for instance, charging that he might be biased toward the prime minister’s government and had maintained too cozy relations with suspects in criminal cases, wrote Euractiv.

As critics allege, if Plenković loses, he might need Turudić’s help.

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