02/01/2005 - Analysis - 1st round
On 2nd January next Croatian voters will be called to the urns for the fourth time since the country's independence that was proclaimed on 8th October 1991, to elect the President of the Republic. The present Head of State, Stjepan Mesic, whose mandate ends on 18th February 2005, has announced that he will be standing for a second mandate and is the favourite in this election. According to a number of opinion polls the present President might be re-elected in the first round of the presidential election.
The Croatian Political System
According to the Constitution the presidential election must take place thirty days at the latest or sixty days at the earliest before the end of the mandate of the current President of the Republic. The President of the Republic is elected for five years by direct universal suffrage and a majority vote. He can only be re-elected once.
Whilst the former President of the Republic (1991-1999) and hero of independence, Franjo Tudjman, enjoyed great power the constitutional reform of 28th February 2001 strengthened the powers of the Sabor (Parliament) by abolishing the old Upper Chamber (the Chamber of Comitats) hence reducing significantly the President of the Republic's powers. He appoints the Prime Minister and the members of the government, represents Croatia abroad and accredits the ambassadors. He is also associated to the government in the definition and running of the country's foreign policy. As head of the army he enjoys exceptional power in time of war. Finally he may dissolve the Sabor and submit a draft law or a constitutional reform to referendum with the government's agreement.
Anyone standing for the Presidency must gather together 10,000 signatures in order to participate in the election. The president of the Electoral Commission Ivica Crnic believes that this number is insufficient given the number of the country's inhabitants. She believes that Croatia, that has a population that is almost the same as Slovakia ought, like this country, to double the number of signatures required in order to stand as candidate in the presidential election. Ivica Crnic would also like to see the introduction into the electoral law of the obligation for candidates to pay a certain amount of money when they deliver their candidature that would then be handed over to candidates who collated the right amount of signatures - and if this figure was not achieved the money would be used for humanitarian purposes.
Since 13th December thirteen people have been officially candidates for the position of President of the Republic. They are:
Djurdja Adlesic (Social Liberal Party, HSLS) ;
Miroslav Blazevic (Veterans Party), former selector of the national football team that came third in the 1998 World Cup;
Ljubo Cesic, independent candidate;
Mladen Keser, independent candidate;
Jadranka Kosor (Democratic Community, HDZ), present deputy Prime Minister and Social Affairs Minister;
Doris Kosta, independent candidate;
Anto Kovacevic (Christian Democrat Union, HKDU) ;
Slaven Letica, (Right Party, HSP);
Stjepan Mesic, present President of the Republic, candidate of the Social Democrat (SDP), the Popular Party (HNS), Farmers' Party (HSS), Democratic Party of Istria (IDS), of the independent party, Libra, the Liberal Party (LS), the Primorje-Gorski Kotar Alliance (PGS) and the Democratic Action Party;
Boris Miksic, business man and independent candidate;
Tomislav Petrak (People's Party);
and Miroslav Rajh (Youth Party).
The Stakes of the Presidential Election
Stjepan Mesic who is 70 years old succeeded Franjo Tudjman on 7th February 2000 - the latter had led Croatia from its independence in 1991 until his death in December 1999. Stjepan Mesic was also the last President of the now dismantled Yugoslav Federation. The three main leftwing opposition parties provided him with their support on 5th December in this presidential election. The president of the Social Democrat Party, Ivica Racan, president of the Croat Popular Party, Vesna Pusic, and the Vice President of the Croatian Farmers' Party, Ljubica Lalic, signed a document that stated their support of the present President of the Republic.
Fifty-two year old Jadranka Kosor, Vice President of the Democratic Community, who made her political debut in 1995, is the present president's main rival. She has said that she would like to lead a "positive campaign, without entering into conflict with Stjepan Mesic". However in spite of her popularity and that of the Democratic Community - that came back to power in November 2003 after four years in opposition – Prime Minister Ivo Sanader, is the second most popular figure after Stjepan Mesic - the present Deputy Prime Minister and Social Affairs Minister in the government led by Ivo Sanader does not appear to be any real threat to the present President.
According to a number of political analysts only the presence of Ivo Sanader might have endangered the present President's position. But the Prime Minister chose to remain at the head of government, on the one hand because victory in the Presidential election was not guaranteed and on the other the function of head of government appeared to him to be more important than that of head of State.
Ratko Macek, Democratic Community spokesperson, was appointed as Jadranka Kosor's presidential campaign leader. He had already undertaken this role during the general elections on 23rd November 2003 that were won by the Democratic Community. Ratko Macek maintained that his candidate's campaign would cost less money than that of Stjepan Mesic - who had said that his would require a budget of around 4 million kuna.
Anto Kovacevic (HKDU) justified his candidature by the Democratic Community's choice of not presenting Andrija Hebrang, who represents the party's rightwing. The vice President of the Christian Democrat Union believes in fact that he might win through to the second round by gathering the votes of those who would have voted for Andrija Hebrang in the election.
The latest opinion poll undertaken by Puls and that was published on 3rd December provides the present President of the Republic with 51% of the vote versus 20% for his main rival, Jadranka Kosor.
None of the other candidates would rise above the 5% vote mark according to this poll with Slaven Letica (HSP) lying in third position.
As far as this presidential election is concerned things seem to be settled - the only question that remains is whether Stjepan Mesic will win on 2nd January in the first round or whether a second round will be necessary to clench his re-election.
The electoral campaign that started on 16th December will end on the last day of this year.
Reminder of the Croatian presidential election results on 23rd January and 7th February 2000
Participation rate: 64.27% in the first round 60.88% in the second round
Source: Le Courrier des Pays de l'Est, n°1036-1037, June/July/August 2003, Europe centrale et orientale 2002-2003, L'ancrage dans l'Union européenne sur fond de tropisme américain, Paris, La Documentation française, 2003.