Electoral considerations continue to dominate the political scene across Central and Eastern Europe (CEE). Tomorrow, 1 July, Russia will conclude a week-long nationwide poll on constitutional amendments, while Croatians will head to the polls in the general election on 5 July. The Lithuanian government is following through on its electoral pledge to establish a state-owned bank ahead of the October parliamentary poll. Meanwhile, Romania’s post-Covid-19 economic recovery plan is expected to become the ruling party’s electoral platform for the local polls in the autumn and the general vote in late 2020. Aside from elections, cracks are emerging in Slovakia’s four-party coalition government as the country’s opposition regroups.
Despite fears over the resurgence of Covid-19, Croatians will head to the polls in the general parliamentary election scheduled for 5 July. The Restart Coalition led by the opposition Social Democratic Party (SDP) will likely win most mandates in the 151-seat unicameral parliament. However, the ruling Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) – expected to come in second place – has better chances of forming a new coalition government with the right-wing Miroslav Skoro Homeland Movement, which is polling third. Regardless of which party ends up forming a new coalition government, Croatia is set to maintain westward foreign policy orientation, keeping the objectives of joining the Eurozone and the Schengen zone. In terms of differences, the SDP-led government might be slightly less frugal in managing public finances and focus more on healthcare and education as well as socially vulnerable groups.
Last week parliament approved legislation paving the way for the creation of a new state-owned development bank, carrying out an electoral pledge made by the ruling Lithuanian Farmers and Greens Union’s (LVZS). The government will start consultations on the topic with the European Commission by 1 September. The state-owned bank is expected to increase competition in the country’s highly concentrated banking sector, improve access to credit for small businesses, and support the development of large infrastructure projects. However, the fate of the initiative will depend on the outcome of the October parliamentary elections. Opposition Homeland Union-Lithuanian Christian Democrats (TS-LKD) remains ahead in the polls, but the ruling LVZS has been catching up on account of its successful handling of Covid-19 and popular economic recovery measures, including cash handouts to families and senior citizens. Moreover, the LVZS may be better positioned to form a coalition government with the Lithuanian Social Democratic Party, which could become a kingmaker after the general poll.
The minority cabinet led by Ludovic Orban (National Liberal Party, PNL) has deferred the planned lifting of Covid-19 containment measures on 1 July due to a surge in new infections during the past two weeks. Restrictions will remain on indoor restaurants and public gatherings and masks will be mandatory in closed public and commercial spaces. The government is attributing the rise in new cases to members of the public disobeying health and safety recommendations, especially at holiday destinations, and may impose local movement restrictions. At the same time, the Orban cabinet is extending economic support measures for affected sectors and companies and may reveal a long-awaited, five-year recovery plan on 1 July. The plan will likely serve as PNL’s electoral platform ahead of the local election in the autumn and the general poll in late 2020.
The week-long nationwide poll on amending the constitution will end on 1 July. According to the electoral commission, 45.7% had already cast their vote from 25-29 June. Voter turnout for electronic voting in Moscow and Nizhny Novgorod is particularly high, exceeding 90%. Exit polls indicate that around three quarters of voters have backed the amendments. Ahead of the main voting day tomorrow, President Vladimir Putin issued another public statement urging citizens to vote and reaffirmed that the amendments would go into effect only if the majority of voters support them. However, there are few doubts that the result will be positive. Meanwhile, key opposition figures have refrained from calling public protests so far. Besides the Covid-19-related risks, one reason for this may be that the constitutional changes include some highly popular provisions on social benefits, pensions, and minimum wage, which are hard to criticize. Nonetheless, public discontent with the worsening economic situation is expected to continue rising. According to Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin, the number of officially registered unemployed persons rose by 3.5 times since 1 April.
Allegations of plagiarism by Speaker of Parliament Boris Kollar – the head of the junior coalition party We Are Family – is causing the most significant rift in the four-party coalition government since taking office in March. Two of the coalition parties For The People and Freedom and Solidarity are calling for Kollar’s resignation, but the parliament speaker is downplaying the issue and holds Prime Minister Igor Matovic’s (Ordinary People, OLaNO) backing. The scandal will likely be too small to break the coalition, but it nonetheless highlights the fragility of the diverse four-party coalition government. Meanwhile, former prime minister Peter Pellegrini’s newly established center-left party Voice-Social Democracy (Hlas-SD) is emerging as the main opposition movement, polling closely behind the ruling OLaNO.