We are heading towards a politically fragmented scene

Somewhat absurdly, voter turnout is the highest in presidential election, although the country’s president has the least influence on daily lives of voters. This is just one of the reasons why we are facing a very uncertain battle for the Croatian ‘throne’, which is likely to be anything but interesting. I would like nothing more to be wrong regarding this, because, in that case, both voters and candidates would profit.

The Croatian political scene has long resembled show business, as have many others. It is no wonder, that, at the very beginning of the presidential race, quite a few new names are popping up who are using populism to attract voters. The fact that political parties find it difficult to understand and attract young voters will make both the presidential and the upcoming parliamentary election a big riddle. The number of dissatisfied voters in Croatia has been growing for quite some time. Even though parties, which advocate a populist option, are disappearing, dissatisfied voters are still waiting patiently for a new option. This practically means that when assessing electoral outcome, large parties should not be fooled by current ratings, says Krešimir Macan, founder of Manjgura PR agency, political analyst and election advisor.
1. As a marketing expert but also a political analyst, do you think it is more difficult to create a good brand and attract public’s attention in business or politics? What are the key differences between the two and what are the similarities?
— It is easier to make a good brand in business, and to attract public attention and interest in politics. A good brand requires a systematic approach, respect for the profession, a lot of work and resources, and those are easier to have in a business environment rather than in politics. Politics is, at least in this part of the world, a day-to-day business where there isn’t much strategic thinking. It is as if politics is in a constant crisis communication mode. Such situations are not ususal to the business. On the other hand, a good brand has to do its best to get the public’s attention because by being a good brand, it doesn’t necessarily have to set itself apart from other good brands to attract public interest. Unlike brands, in politics, all you need is just one slip-up and you end up on cover pages. The latest example of this is a film director who changed his name to Milan Bandić (who, as mayor of Zagreb, made a brand out of himself) and could now become a potential anti candidate in the upcoming presidential election. He may not succeed in collecting the required 10,000 signatures, but he has appeared in many media outlets and attracted public attention that many influencers or brands would like to get when they do something right. But, unfortunately, they are not in politics. You have to be mindful of the fact that, in politics, the media can bury you as quickly as they can exalt you. This just doesn’t happen to good brands. As an advisor to prime minister, you had an inside and outside view of the political scene.

2.Which perception is more difficult to have and what did you conclude from both of them?
— It is easier to have an outside view because you are not bound or burdened by many things that you feel on the inside and which an ordinary observer cannot see. That is why it is easier for me now to recognize and interpret certain things, so I don’t react in haste. The media often want an answer right now, so when you don’t have it, you have to buy time. When you are on the inside you have a responsibility for everything that is being said, official and unofficial, and everything comes with a consequence. When you comment from the outside, it is just an opinion that one could or could not take into account. It is a good idea to try to be on the inside; to have a more objective picture of what happens in certain situations. And yes, the stress is much greater when you are on the inside. Regardless of being there in a professional capacity, you are still considered a political rival, and sometimes even an enemy.

3.Presidential election is coming up. What do you think of the quality of presidential campaigns so far? Do you think that Miroslav Škoro will be the one to re-arrange puzzle pieces on the political scene? Is the growing number of candidates a useful or detrimental thing for the overall political scene in Croatia?
— I see no campaigns as yet; this is still a starting point and a consolidation of voters by party affiliation. I hope we will see some campaigns in October when we will finally see the official nominations of Kolinda Grabar Kitarović and Mislav Kolakušić. He is a candidate that can attract some of the dissatisfied voters and take some votes away from the presidential favourites. Miroslav Škoro has already done some of the work by attracting a certain number of voters from the right, thus somewhat hampering Kolinda Grabar Kitarović’s chances for re-election. Voter support for Škoro has been stagnating just under 20% for several months now and if he does not distance himself from the image of a far-right candidate, he will not pose much of a threat to the leading candidates – Grabar Kitarović and Milanović. Otherwise, he was off to a good start by presenting his programme via a video clip on social media. The growing number of candidates means that certain individuals can take away a percentage of voters from the leading candidates and thus make entering the second round more difficult for them. Additionally, if there are more than 6 candidates, there probably won’t be a presidential public TV debates in the first round, providing that the rule that every candidate should get an equal amount of media space is still in place, which, in turn, will further dampen the campaign by the second round. Having multiple candidates demonstrates that many voters think  hat the current offer of candidates is not good and that they need an alternative. We’ll wait to see what citizens have to say. So far, the top four candidates take up close to 85% of the vote in polls.

4.The results of the election for the European Parliament gave a strong impetus to the SDP. How important are these results for the domestic political scene?
— They don’t have a direct impact, but these specific elections can trigger certain changes on the political scene. If there is a low turnout, better organized political parties can achieve better results than what they normally would if there was a standard, double turnout. So, getting out there and doing the work are crucial for a good result. The far right options are a good example of this, as is Miroslav  Kolakušić. On the other hand, Živi Zid has fallen apart in the election because they could not agree who would go to Brussels. At the same time, getting one seat more than expected gave the SDP a strong impetus, resulting in a significant post-EU election increase in ratings. However, this should not necessarily be credited to them.

5. You were quoted as saying:“I am confident that there will be a generation of new people who will do a serious job and do it in the right way. Civil dissatisfaction will bubble up to the surface, as will a person who will establish themselves as a leader“. Do you think that the right- or left-option will give birth to such a candidate or does an option even matter anymore?

— Citizens have been yearning for an honest and determined candidate to change all of this, and in time, we are going to see strong populist candidates that will off er that verbally. The issue here is what happens with their promises once they come to power. The current political elites think that they are here to stay a long time, and the reality, in other countries, shows them that their time will surely pass quickly if  hey don’t change. Renowned and established parties could disappear due to the great dissatisfaction of young voters whom they can no longer attract as easily as before. Even if these young people were offered jobs and careers, the parties still don’t realize that they are perpetuating a continuation of the negative selection that has led them to the brink of collapse. They say that brands have to start adjusting to changes after 3.5 years to avoid disappearing after 7 years. The same goes for political parties if they don’t adjust, they will disappear.

6.Is voter fatigue so strong that this could well be the last election that will be dominated by traditional parties? Do you think that the voter sentiment would be different if this was a parliamentary election?
— Big parties are having a lot of difficulties swaying young voters to their side. As a result, young voters either abstain from voting or support populists who usually go against the elite. They use social media for this – there are quite a few of them and they are connected at minimal cost. When people get together, there is nothing that can’t be done. This process has been going on for some time now. Political parties are lucky that an election cycle usually last 4 years, so more elections are needed to instigate change. Voters are generally disappointed and believe that voting will not change anything. As a result, the voter turnout has been declining. Somewhat absurdly, voter turnout is the highest in presidential election, although the country’s president has the least influence on daily lives of voters. The second highest is the parliamentary election turnout and the least turnout is in the local and EU elections. One would assume that the biggest turnout would be in local elections where voters elect mayors, i.e. people we know. These are the elections with the highest number of independent candidates running for leading positions and the question is when will this trend spill over to the national level. Živi Zid and Most were alternatives to the HDZ and the SDP, but now that the support for them has drastically fallen, new alternatives are expected to emerge. Dissatisfied voters do not disappear with the disappearance of certain populist options. They are patiently waiting for a new option. Big political parties should not be fooled by the current ratings because we are in for the same thing that has been going on in Spain, Italy or Slovenia for a long time – a rather fragmented political scene with at least 4 blocks.

7.How big is the coalition potential of the current candidates? Can new parties, that have already attracted the voter attention, allow themselves to be associated with a presidential candidate who does not fit their image?
— We can see that they are hardly attracting anything other than their party base so far, which is not surprising given the number of candidates. It will be difficult for them to attract even some votes in their camps. For instance, as a presidential candidate, Zoran Milanović must get the votes of Istria’s IDS, with which he was at total odds when he was the prime minister. During the first round, certain new options will probably not want to be associated with any of the favourites. Rather, they will use their candidates as an opportunity to position themselves for parliamentary elections that take place in less than a year. Whether or not to publicly support someone in the second round is a big question, because voters will more likely have to vote „against“ rather than „for“. This is just one of the reasons why we are facing a very uncertain battle for the Croatian ‘throne’, which is likely to be anything but interesting. I would like nothing more to be wrong regarding this, because, in that case, both voters and candidates would profit. Election campaigns require hard work, time, people and money and if you don’t take them seriously, then you are just a bystander in someone else’s game or a set of circumstances.

8.Is our political scene starting to resemble show business?
— That has been going on for quite a long time. Remember Željko Kerum who, ten years ago, looked like a total outsider only to later win in mayoral election in Split in 2009? In 2017, he made it to the second round. The latest example of this is Miroslav Škoro who was probably inspired by successful campaigns in Slovenia and Ukraine where people from show business were appointed to the top positions in the country. This was partly due to the media demanding that campaigns and politicians should be attractive to the media. Whoever wins the media game, oft en wins overall. Just look at Trump! He’s not a politician, he’s a reality star, and as such, difficult to handle.