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Croatia - General Elections

The Democratic Union (HDZ) returns to power in Croatia

The Democratic Union (HDZ) returns to power in Croatia

23/11/2003 - Results

Four years after having been supplanted the Democratic Union (HDZ) has returned to power in Croatia by winning the general elections on 23rd November. The movement, that is led by Ivo Sanader, alone won 62 of the 140 seats in Parliament, the Sabor, and 75 seats in all. This included those won by its three potential rightwing allies (the Social Liberal Party (HSLS), the Democratic Centre (DC) and the Right Party, (HSP). The diaspora's vote that traditionally tends towards the nationalists should further strengthen this majority. The outgoing government coalition that unites the Social Democrat Party (SPD), the Social Liberal Party (HSLS), the Farmers' Party (HSS), the Liberal Party (LS) and the Popular Party (HNS) led by Prime Minister Ivica Racan only won 63 seats. The participation rate was down in comparison with the previous elections on 3rd January 2000, rising to 60% against 69.3% four years ago.

The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) believes that these general elections occurred "according to international democratic standards", and said that it was satisfied with the way the media covered the election as well as the electoral campaign and praised the local authorities attitude towards voters belonging to national minorities.

Ivo Sanader has therefore succeeded in bringing the Democratic Union back to power; this party was in grave danger of collapsing after the death of its leader, Franjo Tudjman, former President of the Republic (9th December 1999). The man behind the HDZ's revival is due to be appointed Prime Minister by the present President of the Republic, Stepjan Mesic. Over the last four years Ivo Sanader has managed to squeeze out the most radical and comprised elements in his party and change its image that was inseparable from fervent ultra-nationalism before, but which is now more conservative and moderate. "We are not nationalists, we are a conservative party and that is what everyone has to understand. The HDZ rejects all forms of nationalism, radicalism, extremism and xenophobia", he maintained the day following the elections. In addition to this the Democratic Union has become a member of the European Popular Party (PPE), a party that is an assembly of the Christian Democratic Parties of Europe. Ivo Sanader went on a tour of some European capitals meeting amongst others Silvio Berlusconi, Bertie Ahern and Edmund Stoiber. When he was re-elected to his party Ivo Sanader made sure that he apologised to those "who had suffered when the HDZ had been in power".

The man, who was secretary to Franjo Tudjman and deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs, appears therefore to be a totally convinced European. Although he is unmatched in terms of convergence criteria he still avoids questions involving Croatia's co-operation with the ICC for former Yugoslavia in The Hague. These have been at the centre of ongoing negotiations between his country and the EU. The latter has transformed Croatia's co-operation with the ICC and the return of Serb refugees who fled the country during the Serbo-Croat war (1991-1995) into a sine qua non of any potential accession. The High Commission for Refugees at the UN (HCR) believes that 280,000 Serbs fled Croatia during the war; around 100,000 returned home after the end of the conflict. "It is very important that Croatia has a government that commits itself to respecting the country's international obligations and that promotes both political and economic reforms", declared Javier Solana, High Representative for Foreign Policy and Security in Europe adding, "I am confident that Croatia will continue along this road once the new government has been formed".

Ivo Sanader has set himself two objectives: integrate the EU and NATO within the next four years. "We want Croatia to belong to NATO in 2006 and the EU in 2007, which is ambitious but feasible", he declared pointing out that he was ready to work with the ICC. The Community institutions are to decide in April 2004 whether or not to grant Croatia officially the status of candidate country. The HDZ leader also maintains that he has moved forwards in terms of the Serb minority, inviting community members to return to Croatia: "We shall guarantee them all of their rights including the right to property".

The Democratic Union also maintains that they want to strengthen their links with the USA; these are links that suffered under the outgoing government due to Zagreb's refusal to sign agreements that planned for the non-extradition of US citizens who risked being accused by the ICC. Ivo Sanader declared "that he understood the American request" and said he was ready to review any agreements Ivica Racan's government might have made. The HDZ leader still has not decided on the formation of the next government coalition but now that the elections have passed he believes that the extreme rightwing party - the Right Party (HSP), "has a very bad image", and intimated that he preferred to gain the support of the Farmers' Party (HSS), who are members of the present coalition. The Right Party (HSP) that doubled the number of representatives in the Sabor from four to eight has over the last few years also tried to improve its image. The party led by Anto Djapic, says that it is ready to renounce its ultra-nationalist ideology that was close to how the Oustachi regime was - Nazi allies during the Second World War - and that it now wants to be a pro-European party. The HSP is however firmly against any co-operation with the ICC.

Not only will Ivo Sanader have to co-operate with the opposition but also with several of his allies, the Right Party as well as the Bosnian Croats, i.e. 350,000 people most of whom (98% according to the opinion polls) would like a part of Herzegovina to annexed (including the town of Mostar that brought the Serb and Croat communities from both banks of the Neretva into conflict and which is still divided eight years after the end of the war) to Croatia - something that might be a great burden on the future government's regional policy. During its campaign the HDZ made a number of promises: tax reductions, the creation of jobs and even benefit allowances for war veterans, housewives and the retired. The outgoing government coalition led by Ivica Racan's Social Democrat Party (SDP) paid a high price for the reforms that it rolled out in order for Croatia to catch up on the delay it had incurred between Europe and itself. The population believes that it is because of these reforms that unemployment has risen (18.3% of the working population) leading to a loss in the number of social advantages without any improvement in the Croats' quality of life, nor any return to prosperity for the country. Croatia has quite a significant foreign debt that lies at nearly 19 billion euros, representing 70% of the GDP. The outgoing government can however be proud of having succeeded in bringing Croatia out of international isolation where it had been languishing just four years ago and for having launched the country inexorably on the road to European integration that 80% of the population desire.

The new Parliament has to be brought together in the 20 days following the official publication of the election results. Following the formation of the new Sabor, the President of the Republic Stepjan Mesic will appoint a Prime Minister who will then have thirty days to form a government. "The HDZ has certainly changed its image. The future will tell us whether it has also changed policy", declared political analyst Andjelko Milardovic. The composition of the future government and the policy led by Ivo Sanader will prove the reality of the Democratic Union's separation from its "nationalist" past.
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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