Local Elections Preview

A preview of some of Sunday’s races.

On Sunday, voters will go to the polls to elect town and municipal mayors and councils, as well as county prefects and assemblies. Although local elections are usually considered to be less interesting and important than the parliamentary ones, given the current political turmoil and the possibility of early parliamentary elections being called as early as this autumn, this year’s local elections have a special significance.

The second round of the elections will take place on the 4th of June, in those races for mayors and prefects – no candidate receives the majority of votes in the first round. The two highest-ranking candidates will proceed to the second round. With 576 local government units having its own separate elections, all parties will be able to claim at least some victory. While it is impossible to analyse all of the races, here are some of the more interesting ones.

As usual, one of the most interesting elections are those for the Zagreb Mayor and City Assembly. After 17 years in office, current Mayor Milan Bandić is still the favourite for reelection, although his victory is not as certain as in previous elections. The best proof of his vulnerability are his numerous opponents, unlike in previous years when he would usually face just a token opposition. According to polls, the most serious opponents are Anka Mrak-Taritaš (SDP-HNS) and Sandra Švaljek (independent). Interestingly, both of them used to be Bandić’s associates, but are now his fierce opponents. Mrak-Taritaš seems to have better chances of the two to enter the second round, where she is running neck and neck with Bandić. While Švaljek has a smaller chance of entering the second round, polls show that she would win easily against Bandić in the second round.

Another interesting duel will be between Drago Prgomet (HDZ) and Bruna Esih (independent). While neither of the two has a realistic chance of getting through to the second round, their duel will be interesting as an indication of the relative strength of the two factions of the ruling HDZ. Prgomet represents a more moderate faction and was personally chosen as the candidate by party president and Prime Minister Andrej Plenković. On the other hand, Bruna Esih, while independent, is the star of the more right-wing faction, which is opposed to Plenković’s moderate positions. If she manages to win more votes than Prgomet, that will be seen as an embarrassment for Plenković and might bring into question his authority within the party.

Unlike in Zagreb, the current Mayor of Split, Ivo Baldasar, has absolutely no chance of being reelected. He is deeply unpopular and since last election he has been ejected from SDP, so he is now running as a candidate of his own one-man party. There are three serious mayoral candidates in Split. The most flamboyant among them is controversial entrepreneur Željko Kerum, who used to be mayor from 2009 to 2013. Somewhat unexpectedly, his candidacy for the return to the town hall has proven to be quite popular among voters, and he is currently leading the polls for the first round. Another serious contender is Andro Krstulović Opara (HDZ), who was considered to be a clear favourite just a few months ago, before Kerum’s rise in the polls. It is likely that the two of them will enter the second round. However, there is the possibility that one of them might be overtaken by Marijana Puljak from the liberal Pametno party. Given that liberal and left-leaning voters do not have their own serious candidate, it is possible they will support Puljak instead, which might just enable her to enter the second round.

The third-largest town in Croatia brings us one of the most interesting of mayoral races. Rijeka is SDP’s fortress, with the party ruling the town since 1990, when the first multi-party elections were held. The current Mayor Vojko Obersnel is still the favourite for a new term, but in recent polls he has been almost overtaken by Hrvoje Burić, who is now running as an independent candidate, although in previous elections he used to be a candidate fielded by HDZ. If SDP were to lose in Rijeka, that would be a tremendous blow to the party and might lead to the ouster of its president Davor Bernardić.

Interestingly, while Osijek is the centre of Slavonia, which is a conservative area which usually votes for HDZ and similar parties, current Osijek Mayor Ivan Vrkić, who is an independent candidate but is supported by left-leaning SDP and HNS, is almost certain to be easily reelected. Although HDZ had hoped that its candidate Ivana Šojat might bring in new voters, as a young and politically fresh candidate, polls show that Vrkić has a large lead against her and other opponents.

Andro Vlahušić (HNS) would probably be a favourite for reelection in he were able to run. However, due to recently adopted law, which was according to many written specifically to prevent Vlahušić from running, he was unable to submit his candidacy because several years ago he was convicted of causing financial damage to the town budget. The affair did not have any real effect on voters, who voted for Vlahušić at the last elections despite the verdict, but this time his party had to find another candidate, Valentin Dujmović. His major opponent is HDZ’s Mato Franković, who almost managed to beat Vlahušić at the last elections. His other opponent is MOST’s Maro Kristic.

The mayoral election in Zadar is interesting due to the fact that Božidar Kalmeta, the long-time leader of HDZ in the town, decided against running for reelection, prompted by pressure from party leader Plenković who considered Kalmeta’s indictments strong enough reason to select Branko Dukić as the official party candidate. His main opponent is Sabina Glasovac, one of most prominent young SDP members, who hopes to win in a town which almost always votes for HDZ.

Metković is of great interest in these elections because it is the hometown of MOST, which expects to win there again, with Katarina Ujdur as its candidate. HDZ’s Dalibor Milan will try to unseat MOST, which would be a major win for HDZ against its until recently coalition partner at the national level.

County Prefects
The elections of 20 county prefects will probably bring good news to all parties in their respective strong regions, but mostly for HDZ which usually wins these elections in at least half of all counties. The most interesting races are those in Split-Dalmatia County and Dubrovnik-Neretva County, where HDZ’s candidates are running against opponents from MOST. Given that the two parties have broken up their national-level ruling coalition just a few weeks ago, there is no love lost among their candidates. While HDZ is expected to win in both counties, it is not at all inconceivable that MOST might unite all the anti-HDZ voters and win in at least one of them.

The polls will be opened on Sunday from 07:00 to 19:00, when the first exit polls will be released. We will be running a live blog with all the latest results and analysis on Sunday evening, so join us then.