Croatians vote in a general election Sunday as the nation faces an ongoing influx of refugees — a crisis that rival political camps have tried to exploit, while lacking concrete policy pledges to kickstart the sluggish economy. After four years of a centre-left coalition government and six years of recession, the right-wing opposition is bidding to return to power in the country’s first general elections since joining the European Union in 2013. Polls show the conservative Patriotic Coalition led by the HDZ party just ahead, but its comfortable lead has been erased in recent months by the ruling Croatia Is Growing alliance led by the Social Democrats (SDP) and Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic. Some say the arrival since mid-September of more than 300,000 migrants headed for northern Europe has provided a welcome diversion for Milanovic after a disappointing term in which he failed to implement much hoped-for reforms.
“The government was lucky that ahead of the elections a political issue emerged that pushed everything else — namely resolving economic issues — into the background,” independent political consultant Davor Gjenero told AFP.
The premier appears to have walked a fine line between showing compassion and defending national interests — first talking tough with neighbour and former foe Serbia, but recently agreeing on a rare deal to transport migrants across their shared border by train.
“Milanovic, who… six months ago looked politically dead, now seems politically alive to a certain extent,” Gjenero said.