A semi-surprising outcome of elections in Slovenia and Croatia
December 8, 2011 8 Comments
A few days a ago, I had the chance to discuss the outcome of the parliamentary elections in Slovenia and Croatia (see here for the podcast). The fact that the incumbents lost the elections was no surprise. Not only is the current economic climate across Europe such that incoming governments have little chance of winning elections, no matter whether they are from the left or right, but also opinion polls in Croatia and Slovenia had predicated a resounding loss of the governing coalitions and parties. The main surprise was the victory of Positive Slovenia led by Ljubljana’s mayor Zoran Jankovic and founded only six weeks ago.
A striking feature of both elections in Slovenia and Croatia is the decline of the extreme right. Even though both elections were fought under the impression of a severe economic crisis and popular dissatisfaction, the extreme right could not benefit. For the first time since 1992, the Slovene National Party did not win a seat in parliament. In Croatia, the extreme right was represented by a confusing number of incarnations of the Croatian Party of Right, winning an all time low of one seat (the Croatian Party of Right running alone and winning no seat, the Croatian Party of Right-Ante Starcevic running with the Croatian Party of Pure Rights winning one seat and another autochtonous Croatian Party of Right). For full results see the final report of the election commission.
Of course, this does not mean that there were no populists winning elections. The ruling HDZ campaign on nationalist themes (unsuccessfully), denying national legitimacy to the opposition. It also formed a regional coalition with the populist mayor of Split Zeljko Kerum. The winner of Slovene elections is a populist, although more of the center left and the second party, the Slovene Democratic Party of Janez Jansa is heavily drawing on populist themes and seeks confrontation on classic national-populist themes.
The new centre-left governments in both countries have daunting tasks ahead of them. They have to engage in painful economic reforms and not just make few changes, but alter the very structure of the economic system. Even if Slovenia has been government mostly by centre-left governments since independence and Croatia by conservatives, there is a broad shared social support in the countries for a state that provides extensive services, be it in regard to health and social benefits or for employment. Such a state seems in both countries currently no longer sustainable. Thus “slimming down” the state will be inherently unpopular and left-wing coalitions will be forced to pursue neo-liberal reforms. This will make it likely that both new governments—if Jankovic is able to form a coalition—will quickly become deeply unpopular. Unless they are able to turn a corner in terms of economic growth quickly, they both seem likely to be replaced at the next elections, or even earlier. There is in fact a sense of deja vue in both countries. In Slovenia, the coalition seems like to be sabotaged by the abuse of referenda—the strategy employed by Jansa’s SDS in the past. In Croatia, the uncompromising position of Jadranka Kosor on election night suggests that HDZ might try to sabotage the government from the streets, a successfully strategy of Ivo Sanader’s HDZ ten years ago. Now, it might not be over war crimes, but economic cuts. While it does seem likely that the new governments will become unpopular, it remains still unclear on what the alternatives will be. Jansa’s SDS seems to be struggling to be electable to a majority of Slovenes and HDZ will have to decide between just reinventing itself or finally reforming itself, if it can.