Even though the incumbent president Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović (HDZ, EPP) has been under fire over controversial statements that went viral and have severely damaged her popularity, most political pundits agree that she performed well on the stage. Nevertheless, she caught a lot of heat for accusing the Security and Intelligence Agency (SOA) for corruption, which sparked a media outburst the day after.
“Croatia’s secret services need a rejuvenation. This is the only way to address the issue of corruption in that institution,” she said. Senior government officials said her statement was a “lapsus linguae”.
Her main opponent Zoran Milanović (SDP, S&D) is trying to win over the votes of the moderate left. But pundits noticed that he cited his experience as a former PM (2011-2016) in every single response, which came across as arrogant to many.
The other main opponent Miroslav Škoro (independent, pop-singer) made news only a couple of hours before the debate by announcing that he will pardon a war criminal Tomislav Merčep, responsible for killing Serbian families in Croatia in the early 1990s..
Left fringe candidate Katarina Peović (Working front) was the only candidate to attack Škoro over that announcement. Škoro’s numbers were surging before the debate, but a poor performance in the debate may hurt his chances to qualify for the second round.
None of the 11 candidates mentioned the EU Council presidency that Croatia will take over in January, which is surprising considering that foreign policy is one of the main presidential responsibilities.
The incumbent president is still in the lead with 26.8% of votes, followed by Zoran Milanović with 25% and Miroslav Škoro with 21%. However, due to the inner-party struggles between the moderate and right-wing of HDZ, a lot of party members have threatened to secretly vote for Škoro to remove Plenković from the government.
Škoro is the number one candidate for the Croatian diaspora, notorious for influencing elections in Croatia. In case Škoro qualifies for the second round, the numbers suggest that he would easily beat both Kitarović and Milanović. On the other hand, if he fails, Kolinda Grabar Kitarović should secure her second term.