In early January, Croatia’s presidential election yielded signs of a positive change in direction for the country. The country elected centre-left challenger Zoran Milanović as President ahead of the incumbent Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović who had been in power since January 2015. The presidential election result is a blow to factions within the governing Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) party, appearing to mark a positive move by voters away from the increasing right-wing nationalist rhetoric being propagated by Ms. Grabar-Kitarović and a conservative faction within the HDZ party. This result may lead to a realignment of the HDZ party’s core messaging, with intra-party elections due in Q2 2020 before parliamentary elections later in 2020.Current Prime Minister Andrej Plenković (also president of the HDZ party), is viewed by most Croatians as being more progressive than the conservative faction of his party that supported Ms Grabar-Kitarović. Based on initial analysis, it appears that a substantial number of HDZ voters did not support the incumbent president in the election.Since the powers of the President in Croatia are somewhat limited in nature, the election is unlikely to lead to any immediate change in official Government policy. Mr Milanović is an experienced politician having served as Prime Minister from 2011 to 2015. The result is also somewhat symbolic given Croatia will hold the rotating presidency of the EU for the next 6 months, which will provide Mr Milanović with a higher international profile than is customary for a Croatian president. Croatia joined the EU in 2013.Milanović's victory will likely provide some momentum to the Social Democratic Party (SDP) over the coming months. However, in order to return to power in parliamentary elections in the latter part of 2020, the party will need to change current public perception that their parliamentary party lacks sufficiently strong leadership to engage and connect with the wider Croatian voter base.At this early stage, the ultimate result of the parliamentary later this year appears more dependent upon the ability of Prime Minister's Plenković to moderate the more conservative, increasingly hard right wing factions of his party.
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