Croatian Diaspora Voter Suppression // Croatia, the War, and the Future

The alarmingly disenfranchising and downright foul Croatian voter suppression once again showed its ugly face as Croatian citizens living in the Croatian diaspora had the opportunity, on Sunday 26 May 2019, to exercise their Constitutional right to voting for the Croatian European Parliament representatives. This voter suppression comes in the form of limiting polling places to only diplomatic-consular missions, which are few and far between, hence severely hampering and disadvantaging majority of potential voters from voting due to reason of inaccessibility. Most voters would need to make unreasonable efforts, with unreasonable costs, in order to reach a polling place and vote.

This type of voter suppression has undoubtedly been put in place and kept in place by the two major political parties in Croatia, Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) and Social Democratic Party (SDP) once each realised that voting preferences by the diaspora would largely go against them and so they made it almost impossible to vote in the diaspora. Prior to that change in law/constitution regarding polling places in the diaspora, for some fifteen or so years after Croatia’s independence of early 1990’s polling places in the diaspora were ample and fairly adequate for accessibility. They were situated at the diplomatic-consular missions as well as at Croatian Community Clubs. Most voters could easily access a polling place at times of elections.

And these are the major political parties who keep harping on about wanting the Croats from the diaspora to return to Croatia. Yet they act against the diaspora in many ways but voter suppression is the pits! Politicians in Croatia constantly talk about this terrible state of voter suppression but somehow the diaspora is yet to see an initiative from them put to the Parliament to change that despicable, restrictive and antidemocratic law/regulation re polling places. If one didn’t love Croatia so very much, one would become deeply disappointed and walk away, for good.

No question about it: Croatia’s laws and legislative regulations regarding polling places in the diaspora are radically biased! Radically discriminative!

For the great majority of Croatian voters living in the diaspora polling places can be extremely far apart and difficult to reach, especially those with limited transportation options. Many are faced with hundreds or thousands of kilometres round trip just to cast a vote! Not only is this inconvenient, but for the many individuals living on pensions or small incomes it acts akin to a modern-day poll tax.

When one analyses this situation then the results are indeed troublesome for any democracy, for any person having a right to vote under the country’s Constitution. The analysis shows that voter suppression is commonplace as far as the Croatian diaspora is concerned, and that voting is routinely harder for people who live far away from diplomatic-consular missions than for those who can reach such a polling place with reasonable effort and distance to travel.

This is the reality that drives fears of a country in regression, rather than progression – away from antidemocratic former communist controls. The prospect of continued voter suppression fuels disenfranchisement, deprivation, of the diaspora and radical and urgent steps are needed to eradicate it.

Article 45, Paragraph 3 (amended I believe in 2010, when polling places in Croatian clubs were removed, obviously for voter suppression reasons) of the Constitution of the Republic Of Croatia regulates voting by voters who permanently reside the diaspora. do not have a permanent residence in the Republic of Croatia. Paragraph 3 of Article 45 of the Constitution of the Republic of Croatia currently reads:

“In elections for the Croatian Parliament, the President of the Republic of Croatia and the European Parliament and in decision-making procedures by national referendum, suffrage shall be exercised in direct elections by secret ballot, wherein voters who do not have registered domicile in the Republic of Croatia shall vote at polling stations in the premises of diplomatic-consular offices of the Republic of Croatia in the foreign countries in which they reside.”

As anyone can see, this rule is very restrictive, most discriminative and disenfranchising to a large majority of voters living outside Croatia. Their electoral rights have thus in effect been denied. They have been deprived of their rights. Even though their right to vote is enshrined in the Constitution, the laws regulating elections and polling stations blatantly deny those rights to the majority of Croatian citizens living outside the country. This is tantamount to denial of democracy as every fully functional democracy in its voting rights legislation must consider accessibility to polling stations (to voting), no matter which part of the voter population one considers; whether the geographically isolated, whether the disabled, whether the aged and so on… The need for postal and electronic voting for voters living outside Croatia worldwide has been voiced and articulated by politicians, by community activists and leaders…by the birds in the trees, if you like, but no, nothing much is happening on that front either, as far as the public knows.

To help Croatia thrive with its diaspora it is imperative to keep insisting on changes that would provide for accessibility to polling stations at times of elections. Despite being treated appallingly on this score it is so very rewarding to see the Croatian diaspora fight back and numbers of those reaching the polling stations increasing. Regretfully, those numbers are nowhere near those that voted when polling stations were placed at diplomatic-consular offices as well as in Croatian Community clubs across the vast diaspora. You take away the right to vote, you make voting as difficult as it can possibly get – you take away democracy as you suppress voters in such perfidious manner.

That is Croatia today! The Croatia that keeps inviting; that keeps “begging” Croats living in the diaspora to return to live in Croatia and help put Croatia on solid economic and solid demographic feet! On a positive note, my deepest respect to all those Croatian citizens living in the diaspora who have made notable efforts on Sunday 26 May 2019 in ensuring they reach a polling station at a diplomatic-consular office. Ina Vukic

Source: // Croatia, the War, and the Future 

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