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General elections in Croatia 23rd November 2003

General elections in Croatia 23rd November 2003

23/11/2003 - Analysis

On 17th October last Parliament declared its dissolution.

On 20th October Stepjan Mesic, President of the Republic, who was elected on 7th February 2000 as head of State, announced that general elections would be held on 23rd November next.

In October a Globus opinion poll revealed that 60,9% of Croats said they were dissatisfied with the work achieved by politicians during the last term of office (January 2000 -October 2003), with only 27.3% saying they were satisfied.

The Croat Political System

The Sabor, the Croat Parliament comprises only one chamber. The Chamber of Comitats, the former upper chamber that comprised 68 members i.e. three per region elected by universal suffrage and five members designated by the President of the Republic, was abolished by a reform on 28th February 2001. The Sabor comprises 151 MP's who are elected for four years by proportional vote. Each list must win a minimum of 5% of the vote to be represented in Parliament. In the present Parliament 140 MP's represent the Croats (the country is divided into 10 constituencies who elect 14 MP's each), five MP's represent the national minorities (a Serb, a Hungarian, a Czech or Slovak and an MP representing the other minorities). During the next elections the number of minority representatives will rise from five to eight (the Serb minority will have three representatives). Finally, six MP's will represent Croats abroad (their number will depend on the number of people who vote). During the general elections on 3rd January 2000, 126,000 Croats living abroad of which 109,000 in Bosnia Herzegovina went to vote.

There are thirteen political parties in the Sabor:

The Social Democrat Party (SDP), Ivica Racan, the Prime Minister's party, with a majority of seats (45) ;

The Democratic Union (HDZ), Franjo Tudjman, the former President of the Republic's party;

The Social Liberal Party (HSLS) ; former member of the majority coalition which is now the opposition party;

The Farmers' Party (HSS), that Zlatko Tomcic, President of the Parliament belongs to;

The Democratic Party of Istria (IDS), a regional party;

The Right Party (HSP), an opposition party;

The Democrat Centre (DC), also an opposition party;

The Popular Party (HNS), Stepjan Mesic, the present President of the Republic's party;

The Liberal Party (LS), a party that belongs to the government coalition;

The Primorje and Gorski Kotar Party (PGS), a regional party;

The Christian Democrat Union (HKDU), an opposition party;

The Slavonia-Baranya Party (SBHS), a regional party;

The Independent Democrats (HND), an opposition party.

What is at stake in these general elections?

In the main the electoral campaign is focussed on the theme of Croatia's integration into the European Union. This is supported by 85% of the population according to the latest opinion polls and is the country's present priority in terms of foreign policy. The Prime Minister Ivica Racan delivered the official request by his country to join the EU on 21st February last. Since the new majority reached Parliament in January 2000 the government has been trying to catch up in terms of European criteria. The country signed a stabilisation and association agreement with the EU in October 2001. However steps undertaken by Croatia have been disrupted by accusations against the country for its refusal to co-operate with the International Criminal Court for former Yugoslavia at The Hague. The court and several EU Member States accuse Croatia of showing a great lack of will in the arrest of General Ante Gotovina, who is sought after by the Court and who has been on the run for the last two years. At the beginning of October in his last report before the UN Security Council the general prosecutor of the ICC, Carla Del Ponte, expressly accused Croatia for not having arrested General Gotovina declaring that she believed the Croat authorities were "responsible for the arrest and transfer of the General to the Hague not taking place." The Sabor took a controversial decision on 17th October just before its dissolution that might force the government to provide documents to Ante Gotovina's lawyers. The measure angered the Deputy Prime Minister Goran Granic, who immediately resigned as head of the office for co-operation with the ICC in The Hague. The ICC qualified the Croat Parliament's decision as illegal, since the documents were generally handed over to the suspect's lawyers when on appearance at Court.

But although membership of the EU comprises one of the main themes of the electoral campaign it is the possible return to power of the Democratic Union (HDZ) that is the greatest stake of the general elections on 23rd November. The HDZ, a rightwing political party, ruled the country since independence (25th June 1991) and might, after a four year absence, make a major comeback to lead the State. The present coalition in power is an assembly of five political parties, (the Social Democrat Party, SPD, the Social Liberal Party, HSLS, the Farmers' Party, HSS, the Liberal Party, LS and the Popular Party, HNS - the Democratic Party of Istria, dissatisfied with Istria's status - the main peninsula in the Adriatic Sea - left the coalition in June 2001), and is now revealing its divisions. The poor relations between the Social Democrat Party and the Farmers' Party in terms of co-operating with neighbouring States of former Yugoslavia and territorial rights over the Adriatic Sea between Croatia and Slovenia may prevent partners in the government majority from presenting a united stand to the electorate. However the Democratic Union (HDZ) is due to form an alliance with two parties from the present opposition, the Social Liberal Party (HSLS) and the Centre Democrats (DC) who have united. This recent coalition, that was achieved after long discussions, might enable both parties to rise above the 5% vote mark - that are necessary to be represented in the Sabor - and in the case of victory help the Democratic Union to form a government. Political analysts are forecasting a high abstention rate for this general election - around 35%, that will mainly handicap the leftwing parties.

According to the latest opinion polls the Democratic Union is due to win 28% of the vote and the Social Democrat Party are forecast with only 18%. The Farmers' Party is due to win 11% of the vote, with all the other parties lying below the 10% mark. If the participation rate is low the Democratic Union, which was beaten during the last general elections on 3rd January 2000, might turn the tables and return to power during the election on 23rd November.

Reminder of the general election results January 2000:

Participation: 69.3%

Source : Embassy for Croatia - France
Publishing Director: Pascale JOANNIN
The authors
Corinne Deloy
Author of the European Elections Monitor (EEM) for the Robert Schuman Foundation and project manager at the Institute for Political Studies (Sciences Po).
Fondation Robert Schuman
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