Sanader to form Croatia cabinet
ZAGREB, Dec. 9 — Croatian President Stjepan Mesic gave the leader of the formerly hardline nationalists who won last month's general election 30 days on Tuesday to form a new government and win parliamentary approval for it.
Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) leader Ivo Sanader said he would present his centre-right cabinet to the inaugural session of parliament on December 22.
The move will restore to power the formerly hardline nationalist HDZ, which led Croatia to independence and then into international isolation during its 1990-2000 rule.
A pragmatic technocrat, Sanader says he has reformed and moderated the party and has set out a pro-European agenda. Local media have speculated that the cabinet will contain few old faces from the HDZ hierarchy.
''My priorities are raising the living standards at home, gaining membership of NATO and the European Union and resolving open issues with our neighbours,'' Sanader said after meeting Mesic at the president's office.
The international community remains wary of the party founded by the late President Franjo Tudjman and remembered for its hardline nationalism, poor human rights record and economic mismanagement while in power.
A mission of Western human rights monitors, the OSCE, urged Sanader on Tuesday to boost human rights and help the return of Serb war refugees. ''(Human rights) are key for Croatia's EU integration,'' mission chief Peter Semneby said in a statement.
The HDZ won 66 seats in the 152-seat parliament in the November 23 poll, but two parties quickly withdrew from coalition talks. Instead, Sanader will form a minority government with a small centrist ally -- a grouping made up of the Democratic Centre (DC) and the Social Liberal Party (HSLS).
''I am starting consultations for the posts within the party now, and with our partners next week, and I plan to present all the ministers to parliament on December 22,'' Sanader said.
Sanader also counts on support from deputies for ethnic minorities and pensioners and will probably have enough hands in parliament to tackle vital issues like the budget and reforms necessary for progressing towards European Union membership.
Analysts believe the new government will face an uphill task right from the start and some voiced fear that its minority status might slow the pace of reforms.
''Sanader's cabinet will have a serious test already on the budget approval, as the 2004 budget must be ready in March. I cannot be sure they will win support for it smoothly,'' political analyst Davor Gjenero said.
The new government will also soon get new indictments from the United Nations war crimes tribunal against Croats suspected of atrocities during the 1991-95 independence war.
Cooperation with the tribunal is one of the key areas on which Croatia will be judged as it seeks to persuade the European Commission to accept it as an EU candidate.
Copyright 2003 Reuters Limited.