A. S. Elsakov. Contemporary Party System of Croatia: Main Characteristics

A. S. Elsakov. Contemporary Party System of Croatia: Main Characteristics

Key words: Croatia, party system, multipartyism, political parties, ideological dimensions, effective number of parties, electoral volatility, party system polarization, ideological center of gravity

Introduction: after the ‘velvet revolutions’ occurred in 1989, post-communist countries of Central and Eastern Europe saw the fading of the communist system, and, hence, of the bipolar ideological confrontation in Europe. Being encountered with the challenges of demo-cratic transition and of launching the process of operating their economies on the market basis, the CEE states found themselves in a quite different environment. Moreover, the vehement armed conflict which accompanied the development of an independent Croatian state, could be said as presenting a special challenge to its population and political elites. Those developments should have been influenced in some way or another both the whole political agenda at the time and the partisan preferences of voters. The present article is an attempt to shed the light on the core dynamics of contemporary Croatian party system and to reveal its main features that mirror the way the competition among political parties in the system takes place. It seems even more intriguing, provided that there are continuing scholar debates about whether the party systems of Central and Eastern European states are different from that of Western Europe, either in the level of their institutionalization, or in the nature and presence of main political cleavages.

Materials and Methods: three general criteria were employed to investigate the party system of Croatia: the number of parties in the system, the extent to which the system is polarized, and the level of system’s openness or closeness. We use the Laakso-Taagepera’s index to define the effective number of parties in the Croatian party system, the weighted index of the system’s general electoral volatility, developed by Pedersen, to reveal the level of parties’ rootedness in society, and aggregated data on the distance between main parties in party system to measure the concentration of parties in the system in accordance with the Siaroff’s approach. The ideological center of gravity, developed by Gross and Sigelman, and the degree of party system’s polarization as used by Sigelman were used to gauge the extent to which the system is ideologically polarized as well as to define the main programmatic bias of the key system’s actors. Finally, we make use of the approach proposed by Mair to define whether the system is open or closed in terms of the possibility for any one party to participate in government, which, in turn, is closely related to the main pattern of making an electoral or governmental alliances and coalitions. To control for the long-term trends of the Croatian party system, we distinguish between a party system as a more or less permanent development of its core dynamics, and a party system pattern as some kind of a temporary state of system, so we use the data from five consecutive elections, from 2003 to 2016. The resulting classification of the Croatian party system was performed on the basis of the number of the system’s relevant actors, the level of its ideological polarization, and the presence or absence of clustering in the system.

Results: the data on the quantity and relative strength of the party system’s actors, i.e. the effective number of parties, as well as the degree of parties’ concentration in system, indicate that there are two groups of parties in the party system of Croatia; the first group, con-sisting of two leading parties, without one of which it is impossible to form a government, and the second group of follow-ups, which can at best to bargain a more suitable position in a potential coalition. From time to time, there can appear a classic ‘third’ party in the system as a transi-ent development, which may be in a position to decide who of two leading parties will hold an office. The latest two consecutive elections witnessed such a trend of an emerging ‘third’ party in system, but it is too early to argue that the system has a steady ‘two-and-a-half party’ dynamics. Therefore the overall systemic trend remains limited multiparty, whereby the actors are evenly placed, regarding their relative size, inside those two groups of parties. The ideological polarization of the Croatian party system is moderate, and it is even less along the economic dimension, with quite blurred programmatic stances of the majority of parties on socio-economic issues, that could be said is a general trend for the post-communist party systems. Hence, the value dimension dominates over the socio-economic one, and it is that dimension along which parties elaborated more or less distinctive programmatic identities. The ideological center of gravity is in the central point of political spectrum on two main dimensions, which makes the system stable in its core competition patterns, without extreme leaps and bounds in the political process. Total electoral volatility in the system is quite moderate, that indicates that actors in the system have its own more or less defined electoral constituencies, while the volatility of individual parties shows that there are signs of a volatility between distinct clusters, which occurs mainly inside two major ideological blocks. Finally, the party system of Croatia has a greatly closed character in the sense of stability of patterns of competition for government. The governing formulas are familiar, there is a predominantly wholesale alternation of groups of actors when parties in government change, and the real possibility to influence governmental policy is restricted to a certain range of parties.

Discussion and Conclusions: the analysis of the party system of Croatia has shown that it could be classified as a moderately polarized limited multiparty system, with the bipolar character of competition between two main blocks, predominantly constituted along value (cultural) ideological dimension. Two major parties in the system, those of center-left and center-right stances on that dimension, usually behave as two centers of gravity for other parties, while at the same time do not differ greatly over its socio-economic positions from each other. Hence, the cultural dimension in the system slightly dominates over the economic one, with the total absence of relevant ethnic and foreign policy dimensions in the system, and it is there the Croatian party system differs from the party systems of most of its neighbors in the Western Balkans. Structural cleavages that have been constituting European party systems well before the II World War, the nature of the political regime in the second half of XX century, and the building of independent state after 1991 in the militant environment, all have contributed to the significance of the cultural ideological dimension in Croatian polity. Now, after more than 25 years of operating in the changed political and economic structural framework, the party system of Croatia reflects a well-balanced mode of interactions among its elements. The overall stability of patterns of interparty competition, occurring between two main blocks, indicates that there is no major difference between the Croatian party system and the party systems of other Central and Eastern European countries with similar underlying social cleav-ages in their polities.

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About the author:

Anton S. Elsakov, Postgraduate at the Department of European Studies, Saint Petersburg State University (7—9 Universitetskaya Emb., Saint Petersburg, 199034, Russia) (е-mail: anton.elsakov@gmail.com). ORCID: http://orcid.org/0000-0002-1153-0360

For citation: Elsakov A.S. Contemporary Party System of Croatia: Main Characteristics. REGIONOLOGIYA = REGIONOLOGY. 2018; 1(26):28—67. DOI: 10.15507/2413-1407.102.026.201801.28-67

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