Croatians vote after a tense campaign and many humiliations

Two sworn enemies, a president running against the advice of judges, and a nationalist right that sees itself as king: Croatia began voting on Wednesday at the end of a tense campaign for legislative elections in the former.

At 09:30 GMT (11:30 am local), the Election Commission reported that 24% of voters had traveled, compared to 18% during the last election in 2020.

The leading figures in these elections were leftist President Zoran Milanović with populist overtones and outgoing conservative Prime Minister Andrej Blenković, the two arch-enemies of Croatian politics, who exchanged nicknames throughout the campaign.

Accusing Blenkovic of being a “godfather” at the head of “the most corrupt government in Croatia's history,” Milanovic focused his campaign on the fight against corruption, pointing in particular to the appointment to the key post of a judge suspected of having connections. With criminals, all in flowery vocabulary.

“When you deal with thieves and barbarians using their power, you have to behave like that, you have to show your muscles, I know that,” he responded after voting on Wednesday.

The president also ignored the opinion of the judges who ruled his candidacy unconstitutional unless the president resigned.

Corruption has long been the Achilles heel of the Conservative Party (HDZ), forcing many of its ministers to resign in recent years. But the prime minister responded to the attacks by accusing his rival of violating the constitution and being a “coward”.

Blenkovic, who has been in office since 2016, has also campaigned on the stability he says he can provide to 3.8 million residents.

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A promise of stability

“I am absolutely in favor of Croatians choosing a Croatia where the constitution and constitutional order are respected,” he said after voting in the capital Zagreb. “In the geopolitical environment – global, European and regional – Croatia needs serious and responsible people to be protected from all possible crises,” said Blenkovic.

It was under his mandate that Croatia joined the eurozone and Schengen, but with an average monthly salary of 1,240 euros, the country remains one of the poorest in the EU.

“HDZ has been in power for a while, and it's never good to last too long,” 67-year-old retiree Damir Modric told AFP as he left a polling station. “But hey, as the whole of Europe leans further and further to the right, it will be the same here.”

Pollsters, who had long given Blenkovic's HDZ a big win, were shocked when Milanović entered the race in mid-March.

The president, one of the country's most popular politicians, has given new momentum to the SDP social democrats. Not by allowing them to take the lead in voting intent, but by compromising the previously promised wave of conservatives.

According to recent polls, the HDZ could get 30% of the vote, followed by the SDP at 20% – not enough, in either case, to secure a majority in the 151-seat parliament.

The right-wing nationalist Patriotic Movement party hopes to rise to third place and be the kingmaker.

Since 2020, the HDZ has combined with liberals and representatives representing minorities in parliament to secure a majority.

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Polling stations open at 05:00 GMT and close 12 hours later.

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