The election victory of the former Croatian president was something that was obvious even several months ago. The question was only and only if it would require a runoff. The fact is, it was not clear how many votes three other presidential contestants could get. However, the two of them were in fact more or less written off, one as a successful doctor who was interested only in achievable limits of his own political experience, and the other as a supporter of fight against greedy banking lobby, who was just an accidental companion without chances in the presidential game. Therefore, it was only a question of whether the candidate of the main opposition party, Kolinda Grabar Kitarović could prevent an absolute and immediate victory of Dr. Ivo Josipović.
And this is the estimation that caused problems which quite changed the course of the election. Presidential elections became, at that very point, the first place of the measuring of strength between the leading ruling and main opposition party and between both parties presidents, Zoran Milanović and Tomislav Karamarko, and not quite at the end a place of measuring of strength between the current Prime Minister Milanović and the president of the state Josipović.
It was clear at the very beginning of the election campaign that Josipović’s advisors had several substantial starting points that did not match the facts. The first starting point was on a certain win, second on complete unpopularity of opposition leader Karamarko, and third on the full election vulnerability of Grabar Kitarović due to her cooperation with the former, now incarcerated, president of the HDZ government, Dr. Ivo Sanader.
Their estimations were wrong. Let’s look at a few reasons for that claim. First, on the relationship between Grabar Kitarović and Sanader. The relationship was never such that she could be accused now of cooperation in, as we could hear in pre-election discussions, Sanader’s pillaging of the state. First of all, she was the minister, first European and later for foreign affairs, during the period after the death of Dr. Franjo Tuđman, when the Sanader himself changed the HDZ into a party that accepted the key value system of the European states that set, as its key objective, accessing the European Union. However, this meant quite clear and unambiguous compliance with the requirements of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, suspension of former state policy towards Bosnia and Herzegovina and a denial of protection to a part of the criminal underworld. It completely fascinated European politicians back then. Sanader showed that he knew how to make decisions. Only later, when Grabar Kitarović was already dismissed, and with the help of the then president Stipe Mesić appointed for ambassador in Washington, came a period when Sanader formed a parallel state with which he abused Croatia. Therefore, not many arguments could be found to identify the participant on the elections and the incarcerated head of government in voters’ heads. The fact is only one. Ivo Sanader adopted the key foreign policy decisions, just as all powerful prime ministers. The minister of foreign affairs was more or less only a performer or, and I use this word in best of its meaning, a messenger of such decisions. Grabar Kitarović was just that, a charming and eloquent minister, who, similar to Sanader, spoke various European languages, and understood what her boss said. When she questioned that relationship for the first time, the head of state replaced her.
The situation was similar with Josipović’s office estimation of Karamarko’s unpopularity. Of course, it is true, and it is no secret and it is a fact evident from various opinion polls. However, that fact alone is not enough to link such political unpopularity to Sanader’s corruption in the election mind of an individual citizen, and achieve electoral win against the opposition candidate as a result of this. Karamarko is not, as it is usually simplified, a newcomer to the party. It is true that he got his HDZ membership card formally during the presidency of Jadranka Kosor, however, he was in the party since its origins. And this is where he made numerous political acquaintances, which remained regardless of later party divisions. When he established the first cells of the HDZ party in the part of Zagreb where he lived, with Zagreb Mayor Milan Bandić, who campaigned for SDP in the same streets, later in the government of national salvation with Prime Minister Gregurić, and then with Mesić, when he was his chief of cabinet. That was the turning point. Karamarko was appointed the influential chief of Zagreb Police Department with the help of all three of them. He stopped the discharges of Serbs in the police and interpreted current Tuđman’s politics towards Bosnia differently. The fact is, he was married with a daughter of Professor Osman Muftić, one of the most respectable bey families in Zagreb. The scepticism towards politics of division in Bosnia was probably just an excuse. The ruling HDZ confronted him because he did not want to send a police special forces team and clean off the drivers of the enterprise Croatiabus when they went on strike and rebelled against the forced privatization. The company was allegedly supposed to be bought by one of the president’s influential generals. Several days before that, he gave the order to arrest the then untouchable undercover financial associate of the government, Miroslav Kutlo. It was too much. Bandić helped him again in searching for employment and Mesić again later, when he ran for president of the country for the first time. Karamarko takes over his election headquarters and wins.
This is why the remark on Karamarko’s unpopularity is insufficient. Karamarko also recognizes the political levers that enable the victory.
And this is exactly what should open the key question of that electoral game for Josipović and his advisors, whether Karamarko’s key interest was the presidential victory of his candidate, or his victory at the However, they could not even ask that question, because question set in such a manner would necessary require an answer whether Milanović really considered Josipović’s presidential election victory as a key point or he saw these elections more as a training ground and preparation for the big showdown with Karamarko, and immediately afterwards, the operationalization of the program, establishment of position towards work and the results of Milanović’s government.
However, this question was quite on the table, at least in last year’s July. Josipović stated, as his key election program, a change in the constitution and electoral legislation. Prime Minister Milanović found it appropriate and necessary to mention at one of the meetings in Pula, that the government had many more significant and binding issues than changing the constitution and electoral laws.
During the last year or two, the prime minister and the president of the state had several substantially different opinions that were majorly due to the system of distribution of certain executive powers. Thus, an idea appeared at the beginning of the year before last, more as a test, to limit the powers of the president of the state, and he/she would no longer be elected directly, but in the Croatian Parliament. Josipović responded by measuring public opinion, which supported an increase in the competence of the head of state. It was similar with the matter of respect for the European arrest warrant, whose relativization caused heavy conflict between the government and the European Commission, whose request was supported by the president. He added as well that the actions of the government and worsening of relations with the European Commission was dangerous. At the end of 2012, Josipović stated that the government wants to limit hid jurisdiction with the proposal of a new law on defence. And we could mention many more points of disagreement.
They remained unanswered, but, as it is usual in politics, not forgotten. And that was the key combination – underestimation of blond challenger and belief in victory, which would not only be an election victory of a new president, but also a tool for a new determination of the relationships with the prime minister.
Josipović’s election program was radical. A program the country in crisis needs. I will summarize it in a few theses. It is not possible to carry out economic reforms without substantial political changes and new ways of party organization. We need new political forces and new people. We are not able to carry out structural changes without this. Exiting from the crisis is not possible with, a quote, further drunken borrowing, nor with a deficit and growing of public debt nor with the corruption bribery of part of the nation.
Kitarović was easily understandable, because Karamarko is in opposition. This is why she self-consciously kept repeating, after the extraordinary first round, the story of optimism and future, of reconciliation and respect, as well as new, totally different day that would follow the election of her as a president.
Josipović was a good president. Kolinda Grabar Kitarović won yesterday. The Republic of Croatia has got a new president of the country. An exciting night of triumph is behind her. A tough period of fulfilling the promises is what is coming now.