Croatia Holds a Parliamentary Election on Wednesday After Senior Officials Were Involved in a Dirty Campaign - Latest Global News

Croatia Holds a Parliamentary Election on Wednesday After Senior Officials Were Involved in a Dirty Campaign

ZAGREB, Croatia (AP) — Croatia is holding early parliamentary elections on Wednesday after the campaign was marked by heated arguments between the country’s two top officials and sparked a political crisis in the Balkan country, which is a member of the European Union and NATO.

The vote will pit the ruling conservative Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), led by incumbent Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic, against an alliance of centrist and left-wing parties informally led by populist President Zoran Milanovic and his Social Democratic Party (SDP).

There is a lot at stake in the race for Croatia’s 151-seat parliament, not just within the country itself but also for Europe, which is grappling with instability caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

If the HDZ remains in power, the country would maintain relative political stability and continue its pro-Western course in supporting Ukraine in the fight against Russia. A success for the SDP could put it on the path to victory in the European elections in June and the presidential election in December. It would shatter the HDZ’s long dominance of politics and potentially create space for greater pro-Russian influence in the country, similar to Hungary and Slovakia.

Since Croatia’s independence from the former Yugoslavia in 1991, the HDZ has largely held power. The Adriatic state became the European Union’s newest member in 2013 and joined the European passport-free travel area and the eurozone last year.

The president has a predominantly ceremonial role in Croatia, while the prime minister wields most of the political power.

After Milanovic called early elections and unexpectedly announced his candidacy for prime minister, he began campaigning on behalf of the SDP. But judges at the Croatian Constitutional Court intervened and declared the move unconstitutional.

They said the president would not be able to run for prime minister, participate in the upcoming parliamentary elections or campaign for a party unless he resigned immediately.

Milanovic refused, openly ignored the Supreme Court and continued his campaign for the left-wing alliance. He accused Plenkovic and the HDZ of rampant corruption and “massive theft” of state funds and pointed to past and current scandals, some of which had already been resolved in court.

Plenkovic denied the allegations.

The election was the latest episode in the long-standing rivalry between Plenkovic and Milanovic. Milanovic’s colorful use of insults towards his opponents and critics has shocked many, but he remains the most popular politician in polls because he speaks openly and uses clear words, unlike the more reserved Plenkovic.

Milanovic has often expressed a pro-Russian stance during the war in Ukraine and has spoken out against the training of Ukrainian soldiers in Croatia as well as arms shipments to Ukraine, which he believes only prolongs the war. He called Plenkovic an “ordinary coward” for allegedly preventing him from participating directly in the election.

“The game is over for Plenkovic,” Milanovic said after Wednesday, calling on voters to take part in the elections in large numbers “to get rid of Plenkovic and his cartel.”

Plenkovic, like Milanovic a former career diplomat, accused his rival of acting irresponsibly and “pushing Croatia and the Croatian people into the ‘Russian world’.”

Plenkovic said Milanovic should not hold public office and described him as a “political waste who only brings negativity.”

Most pre-election polls predict a comfortable victory for the HDZ, although not enough seats to govern alone. The left-wing opposition could benefit from dissatisfaction with high inflation and the general economic malaise in most EU member states. Smaller parties on the right and left could play a key role for both the HDZ and the SDP in their quest for power.

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