With Croatia set to hold general elections this year, polls show that the two main political parties — the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) and the Social Liberal Party (SDP) — are in a virtual dead heat. This time around, both parties are counting on professional consultants to help them maximise their chances.
For the past four years, Irish political consultant and PR specialist P.J. Mara has been advising Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader. Mara, the principal political adviser to twice-elected Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, is one of the most sought-after campaign experts in his country.
Mara’s efforts helped HDZ win the last round of elections, and the party is hoping his magic will do the trick again. His approach is to focus on personality, keeping the party leader in the spotlight and making maximum use of that person’s individual charisma.
The message sent to the voters is clear and simple: a person who makes political promises to a nation must be a democratic, skillful leader who fears no one and focuses on a single goal, the prosperity of the country.
However, HDZ’s competitive edge could be dulled this time around, as the opposition has also decided to hire a recognised political campaign expert, Britain’s David Evans.
He successfully oversaw the election campaign for the British Labour Party and in 2001 founded his own company, specialising in communications and political marketing. He worked with Alistair Campbell, a controversial political figure and well-known political adviser who helped Tony Blair win two elections.
SDP hopes that Evans will help them achieve a similar outcome. More specifically, the party is banking on enhanced communications and PR skills that will allow them to better get their message across.
Over 1,000 party members registered to attend the training sessions provided by Evans. Now they are ready to take their new skills into the field, testing them against the strategies of their rivals in HDZ. It is far too early to make any predictions, except one — the style of Croatian politics has changed, perhaps forever.