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(E) RFE/RL report - Croatian elections
By Nenad N. Bach | Published  12/7/2003 | Media Watch | Unrated
(E) RFE/RL report - Croatian elections

 

Croatian Elections Report
RADIO FREE EUROPE/RADIO LIBERTY, PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC
___________________________________________________________
RFE/RL Balkan Report
Vol. 7, No. 39, 5 December 2003

A Weekly Review of Politics, Media, and Radio Free Europe/Radio

CROATIAN VOTERS OUST THE GOVERNMENT. Croatian voters apparently
returned the late President Franjo Tudjman's Croatian Democratic
Community (HDZ) to power in the 23 November parliamentary elections.
The ballot reflected a general disappointment with the sometimes
fractious government of Social Democratic Prime Minister Ivica Racan
and its failure to raise the standard of living, rather than a return
to the nationalism of the early 1990s (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 21
November 2003).
Racan admitted defeat, saying in Zagreb on 25 November that
his Social Democrats (SDP) clearly lost to the HDZ. "We congratulate
the HDZ on its very good results," Racan said. "We expect them to
take responsibility and form a new government as soon as possible,"
he added, noting that his government will continue in office in a
caretaker capacity until HDZ leader Ivo Sanader forms a cabinet.
Racan said that the SDP will then go into the opposition.
With a voter turnout of about 66 percent, final official
returns on 3 December showed the HDZ the clear winner. It will have
66 seats in the new 152-member parliament, the SDP (with its
coalition partners Libra, the Liberal Party [LS], and the Istrian
Democratic Assembly [IDS]) 43, the Croatian People's Party (HNS)
(with the regional Primorsko-goranski Alliance) 11, the Croatian
Peasants Party (HSS) nine, the Croatian Party of [Historic] Rights
(HSP) eight, the Croatian Pensioners' Party (HSU) three, the
Croatian Social Liberal Party (HSLS)-Democratic Center (DC) coalition
three, and one for the Croatian Democratic Peasants' Party
(HDSS).
In addition, eight seats were reserved for representatives of
ethnic minorities. Four additional seats were assigned to
representatives of the diaspora, all of which were for HDZ. The final
number of diaspora seats depended on precisely how many ballots were
cast by Croats living outside Croatia. A 3 December statement by the
election commission (DIP) described the turnout among the minorities
and the diaspora as "poor," both objectively and in comparison with
the 2000 elections.
But the results seemed unambiguous, in any case. Sanader said
in Zagreb on 24 November that his government's priority will be
raising the standard of living -- an apparent recognition of why the
electorate ousted the Racan team. Sanader pledged to cut VAT from 22
percent to 20 percent, to seek admission to the EU by 2007 and to
NATO by 2006, and to promote good relations with Croatia's
neighbors.
He added that his pledge to promote integration with the EU
and NATO clearly includes cooperation with the Hague-based war crimes
tribunal. Sanader stressed throughout the campaign that the HDZ has
broken with its nationalistic and authoritarian past. Observers note,
however, that nationalist rhetoric often emerged at HDZ campaign
rallies.
One question that quickly surfaced after the HDZ victory had
become clear was whether Sanader will be able to form a government
without the open or tacit support of the HSP. The EU and
Croatia's neighbors are likely to be wary of a government that
includes HSP members or depends on HSP votes in the parliament. That
party is likely to insist on a tough line on cooperation with the
Hague-based war crimes tribunal as part of any price for its support.
But HSP leader Anto Djapic told RFE/RL's South Slavic and
Albanian Languages Service on 2 December that his party will not
support a government with its votes in the parliament if the cabinet
does not include HSP ministers. The HDZ was reportedly reluctant to
include HSP deputies in the cabinet lest it face international
isolation as did the Austrian government when the far-right Freedom
Party (FPO) first entered a cabinet.
Attention is currently focused on whether Sanader can put
together a working legislative majority with other parties,
especially the HSS, rather than with the HSP. Talks with HSS leader
Zlatko Tomcic and other party officials began soon after the
elections, but attempts to hammer out a joint program seem to have
stalled because of allegedly irreconcilable differences over economic
policies. Tomcic said on 1 December, however, that the HSS is willing
to support a minority HDZ government in the parliament. It is not
clear whether the HSS has definitively ended negotiations or is using
a tactical ploy to extract better terms from the HDZ.
A truly tantalizing possibility would be the entry into the
government of the Independent Democratic Serbian Party (SDSS), which
will have three legislative seats allotted to the Serbian minority.
Before the election, party leader Milorad Pupovac suggested such a
possibility, as did his colleague Vojislav Stanimirovic after the
vote.
The SDSS subsequently backed off from its tentative offer,
but as with the case of the HSS, it is too early to tell whether this
is the last word or a negotiating tactic. The SDSS can afford to
drive a hard bargain, because Sanader knows he will have an
infinitely easier time convincing the EU, NATO, and other foreign
partners that the HDZ has mended its nationalist ways if Serbs are in
his cabinet.
Croatia's neighbors and partners generally reacted calmly
to the news of the HDZ victory. Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij
Rupel said in Ljubljana on 24 November that Croatia will soon have a
stable government, recalling that Slovenia has worked with previous
HDZ-led governments.
Serbia and Montenegro's Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic
told RFE/RL in Belgrade that cooperation between the two countries
will continue regardless of who is in power in either of them.
In Sarajevo, Dragan Covic, who heads the Bosnian Presidency
and is a member of the Bosnian branch of the HDZ, hailed the Croatian
election results. Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic said in
Podgorica that he congratulated Sanader and looks forward to
continuing good bilateral cooperation.
In Brussels, an EU spokesman noted that the elections "took
place in an orderly fashion," stressing, as did several top EU
officials, that the Brussels-based bloc will judge the new government
on the basis of its deeds and not its words. The EU did not fulfill
the outgoing government's hopes of being promised admission by
2007. Brussels also alienated some Croats recently by appearing to
suggest to voters that they should not vote for the HDZ or its allies
(see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 October and 14 November 2003, and "RFE/RL
Balkan Report," 27 June 2003).
In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman Richard
Boucher noted the Organization for Security and Cooperation in
Europe's (OSCE) observation that the elections were fully up to
international standards.
And hope springs eternal. Vesna Pusic, who leads the
left-of-center HNS, said on 25 November that she hopes that her party
and the others in the Racan government will have a chance to form a
new cabinet if the HDZ fails to put together a working legislative
majority. (Patrick Moore)

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