But as the campaign progressed and social restrictions eased, his strategy seemed poised to backfire. In the two weeks before the elections, daily cases of coronavirus in Croatia exceeded 50, reflecting rates at the height of the crisis in April.
As cases escalated, Plenkovic’s rivals – and some of his allies – suggested that the elections be postponed in the interest of public health. In an attempt to address these concerns, the electoral authority briefly prohibited confirmed coronavirus patients from participating. But the country’s constitutional court later overturned the ban, allowing patients to vote by proxy.
And just as support for both the center left and the far right began to increase, Mr. Plenkovic was criticized for approving an exhibition tennis tournament in Zadar, a seaside town, by Novak Djokovic , the world n ° 1 in tennis.
The tournament was intended to generate interest in vacation spots in Croatia, stimulating the besieged tourism industry in the country, a key element of its economy. This ended in embarrassment, both for Mr. Djokovic and for Mr. Plenkovic.
Crowds at the event did not have to wear masks or follow rules of social distancing. Several participants contracted the virus, including Mr. Djokovic himself, forcing a premature end of the tournament and undermining the victorious account of Mr. Plenkovic’s coronavirus.
Mr. Plenkovic was charged with hypocrisy after punching Mr. Djokovic with a fist and then refusing to enter quarantine, which critics say contravened the government’s own directives to curb the spread of the disease.