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Croatia in Constitutional Crisis After Election

Updated: Apr 27

April 17 was a parliamentary election day in Croatia. A record-breaking number saw almost 60% of the population cast their vote. However, following the elections, the political atmosphere remains uncertain.


The recent elections have been influenced significantly by the involvement of the outspoken President Zoran Milanović. Milanović has added a significant layer of unpredictability. President Milanović stated yesterday at the press conference that the Constitutional Court headed by its President Miroslav Šeparović is preparing a coup.


Croatia’s political landscape is in a phase of reassessment and potential coalition formations as parties and political figures navigate the post-election environment​.


However, President Milanović of Croatia is now at the centre of a constitutional dispute following yesterday's extraordinary meeting and press conference by the Constitutional Court President Miroslav Šeparović. Šeparović stated that “President Milanović cannot be either the prime ministerial candidate or the prime minister, even if he resigns from the presidency now before the constitutive session of the parliament.” Milanović has been barred.


According to many comments on President Milanović’s Facebook post, the Constitutional Court statement has caused anger with the public. Virtually every second comment is requesting the President to use the army to stop the process of this so-called “coup”. Indeed, many of Milanović’s supporters see this as a coup after hearing the statement and warning delivered by Miroslav Šeparović.


Ivan Malenica (HDZ), Minister of Justice, commented on the situation for the Croatian National TV (HRT), saying: “the president of the Constitutional Court clearly emphasised, and I agree with his view, that the Constitution is above all citizens and above both the President of the Republic and the Croatian Parliament […] The Constitutional Court and the president of the Constitutional Court have clearly explained this, so I would not add anything […] I think the Constitutional Court acted correctly both the first time and now."


President Milanović has, of course, responded strongly describing it as a "constitutional coup”. He has criticised the court and the existing government, accusing them of undermining Croatian democracy while manipulating electoral outcome​.


The majority in the Constitutional Court are really saying that they will recognise the election results if the prime minister is not Zoran Milanović. This statement is, in essence, a threat to the new Parliament to be careful about what they do and who they support. And this threat is deeply unconstitutional. The constitutional judges Andrej Abramović, Lovorka Kušan, and Goran Selanec concluded the same. The three have published opinions contrary to yesterday's court ruling. Additionally, aome opposition politicians alleged the court is controlled by the ruling conservatives (HDZ).


To add to all of this, former Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor has also said the court’s decisions was unconstitutional, and leftist politician Dalija Orešković described Croatia’s top court as “one of a number of captured institutions.”


Lea Ivanković, lawyer and politician commented: “[…] the Constitutional Court of Croatia had to explain to the public that it was not staging a coup. It is a defeat for democracy, the rule of law, civilization, and constitutionality - that is Croatia today.”


The official results from Wednesday's election reveal that PM Plenković's HDZ party secured 61 seats in parliament, while the SDP won 42 seats. Additionally, the far-right Homeland Movement has gained significant influence, capturing 14 seats and potentially playing kingmaker in future government formations. Another option to form the new government lies in Nikola Grmoja, one of the leaders of MOST, a social conservative party. To form a majority any coalition needs at least 76 of 151 seats in the parliament.


The following three options for the new government are possible:


HDZ (61) + Homeland Movement (14) + minorities (1) = 76


SDP (42) + MOST (11) + Mozemo! (10) + IDS (2) + NPS (2) + Fokus Republika (1) + minorities (8) = 76


SDP (42) + Homeland Movement (14) + MOST (11) + Mozemo! (10) = 77


The Homeland Movement will never form a coalition with the SDP as their supporters would not forgive them for elevating the SDP to power. The Homeland Movement contends that the HDZ is not sufficiently right-wing, rendering a coalition with the far more left-leaning SDP even less plausible. Their only feasible option is to negotiate a coalition with the HDZ, aiming to secure major ministries like education, defence, and police. It is uncertain whether Prime Minister Plenković will consent to this arrangement; should he decline, a new election may be called in the hope that the Homeland Movement will increase its voter base.


The Constitutional Court decision has Croatia divided. Comments all over social media are questioning why the court didn’t announce this decision before the campaign and election, despite obviously preparing grounds for yesterday's statement with a previous warning on March 18 by Miroslav Šeparović, the President of the Court.


Vesna Škare Ožbolt, former Minister of Justice and Adviser to the President stated: “The Constitutional Court has attacked the function of the President of the Republic, but also the future decisions of the Croatian Parliament, in case they choose Zoran Milanović as the prime minister, stating that it would annul such a decision. Can the Constitutional Court be above the Parliament? The people vote - the people decide! […] Such a sudden and unthoughtful decision could open space for serious dissatisfaction in the country.”


It seems many are of the opinion this was a planned manoeuvre, used as a Plan B by Andrej Plenkovic (HDZ), who wasn’t sure he could form a successful coalition. However, there are some other who support the decision presented by the Constitutional Court today.


Croatia is facing difficult times ahead. These next hours and days will determine if Croatia has a government anytime soon. The question is, will this be done according to the constitution or will have another election?

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