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General Elections in Croatia

General Elections in Croatia

25/10/2007 - Analysis

On 12th October last the Hrvatski Sabor, the only Chamber in Parliament was dissolved; five days later the President of the Republic, Stepjan Mesic announced that general elections would take place on 25th November. The political parties have 14 days to deliver their lists to the competent authorities. They have all started their electoral campaign.

The Political System

The Hrvatski Sabor is unicameral since the reform of 28th February 2001 which abolished the Chamber of Comitats, the Upper Chamber, which comprised 68 members elected by direct universal suffrage. The Hrvatski Sabor has around 150 members (their number varies according the governments in power: "no less than 100 and no more than 160" decrees the Constitution), elected for four years by a proportional voting system.
In every general election Croatia is divided into 10 constituencies each electing 14 MPs. A political party has to win a minimum of 5% of the vote to be represented in Parliament. In the present Chamber 137 MPs represent the Croats of Croatia, 8 MPs represent the national minorities: three for the Serbs, one for the Hungarians and one for the Italians, the Czechs and the Slovaks and finally 2 others represent the other minorities living in the country (Austrians, Bulgarians, Bosnians, Macedonians, Montenegrins etc ...). During the elections on 25th November next the number of minority representatives will rise from five to eight. Finally 6 MPs (their number depends on the number of voters) represent Croats living abroad.

16 political parties are represented in the Hrvatski Sabor at present:
- the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), the party holding the majority led by present Prime Minister Ivo Sanader, with 66 seats;
- the Social Democratic Party of Croatia (SDP), the main opposition party led since May 2007 by Zoran Milanovic who replaced Ivica Racan who died on 29th April 2007; it has 34 MPs;
- the Croatian People's Party (HNS), a centre-left party (formerly that of the President of the Republic Stepjan Mesic), led by Vice-President of Parliament Vesna Pusic, 10 seats;
- the Croatian Peasant Party (HSS), a eurosceptic party led by Josip Frisic, 10 seats;
- the Croatian Party of the Right (HSP), a far right party founded in 1861 and led by Anto Djapic, 8 seats;
- the Istrian Democratic Assembly (IDS), a regionalist party founded on 14th February 1990 to defend the interests of the inhabitants of Istria and Kvarner, led by Ivan Jakovic, 4 seats;
- the Liberal Party (LS-SLD), 3 seats;
- the Independent Democratic Serbian Party (SDSS), a government party with three seats;
- the Croatian Social Liberal Party (HSLS), a party led by Durdja Adlesic with 2 seats;
- the Croatian Party of Pensioners (HSU), member of the government coalition, led by Vladimir Jordan with three MPs;
- the Democratic Centre (DC), a party founded on 2nd April 2000 by the moderate wing of the Democratic Union whose chairman is former Justice Minister Vesna Skare-Ozbolt; 1 seat;
- the Primorje-Gorski Kotar Alliance (PGS), a regional party led by Nikola Ivanis, 1 seat;
- the Democratic Peasants Party (HDSS), one seat;
- the Democratic Union of Hungarians of Croatia (DZMH) 1 MP;
- the German People's Union-National Association of Danube Swabians in Croatia, 1 seat;
- the Party of Democratic Action of Croatia (SDAH), led by Semso Tankovic, 1 MP.

Since all Croats enjoy the same rights and there cannot be any discrimination based on place of residence, the Constitutional Court allows Croats living abroad but whose residence is registered in Croatia to participate in the elections. The question of expatriate voting, with this population traditionally leaning towards the Democratic Union (HDZ), is an issue which frequently arises. The Diaspora does however enjoy half of the influence of the national minorities whilst the number of voters living beyond the national borders is much greater. The decisive nature of the Italian expatriate vote in the defeat of Silvio Berlusconi in the Italian general elections on 9th and 10th April 2006 leads the Democratic Union and especially the Social Democrat Party to fear that the Croatian Diaspora will control the result of the upcoming elections. The leader of the main opposition party Zoran Milanovic said in May that if the Social Democrat Party won on 25th November next it would abolish the right for expatriate Croats to vote. Milanovic's party, along with the People's Party will not put a candidate forward in the 12th constituency, the one reserved for voters living beyond the national borders. Prime Minister Ivo Sanader maintains that expatriate Croat voters' rights are guaranteed as long as the Democratic Union is in power.

Issues at stake in the General Elections

For months Ivo Sanader's Democratic Union has been lagging behind the Social Democratic Party in all the opinion polls. The party in power can be proud of having improved Croatia's chances of joining NATO and the European Union. The country put forward its candidature on 21st February 2003, and the European Union granted the country official candidate status in June 2004 with negotiations starting in October 2005. Croatia has already opened 14 negotiation chapters (and concluded 2), and should logically be the next country to join the Union. Five new chapters might be opened before the end of the year (free movement of workers, transport, energy, trans-European networks and finances and budget). Croatia was also elected member of the UN Security Council on 16th October last, "the greatest success achieved by Croatian foreign policy after the acknowledgement of the country's independence," according to President of the Republic Stepjan Mesic. Ivo Sanader's government has failed in part in its fight against corruption in the same way it has not managed to apply vital reforms to the legal system.

The Democratic Union has suffered two electoral setbacks: it lost the presidential election on 2nd and 16th January 2005 when its candidate Jadranka Kosor, Deputy Prime Minister, Social Affairs Minister and Deputy Chair of the party won 20.3% of the vote in the first round (versus 48.9% for Stepjan Mesic who stood as an independent) and 33% in the second round versus 66% for Stepjan Mesic. Four months later the Democratic Union was beaten by the Social Democratic Party in the local elections that were held on 15th May 2005. The main opposition party won in 9 of the 21 regional assemblies and maintained the capital of Zagreb; it also won the second and third biggest towns, Split and Rijeka.

"If the Democratic Union wins the general elections there will not be any new taxes because those who want to apply new taxes will simply not be in power," repeats the Prime Minister who recalls that the Social Democratic Party is planning to tax capital surplus. The Democratic Union is quick to present the Social Democrat Party as a Marxist movement that would like to take the country back to how it was during the Communist period. "They are promising growth and we already have that, they talk of reducing budgetary deficit and we have already reduced it." On 20th September the HDZ was admitted into the Christian Democrat International of which Ivo Sanader was elected Vice-President.

On 8th September the Social Democratic Party presented its electoral programme entitled 'A better life via education'. This focuses on social security, education and economy. Promising fairer distribution of national revenue it also promises to reduce public debt, to increase exports and to fight against youth unemployment and corruption. "We do not want a society in which everyone is equal but where everyone is equally important. The Social Democratic Party will restore values of solidarity, responsibility and honesty," declared Zoran Milanovic who positions himself in favour of "a market economy rather than a market society." The party is also pushing for Croatia to establish a German or Austrian type federal system. Finally, Zoran Milanovic has promised to organise a referendum on the country's membership of NATO and maintains that his party will lead Croatia into the European Union.
If it wins on 25th November the Social Democratic Party will however need other parties to form a government. For the time being Zoran Milanovic has excluded alliance with the Istrian Democratic Assembly (IDS) and has now started pre-electoral negotiations with the Croatian Peasant Party (HSS) and the Party of Democratic Action (SDAH). It ordinarily should be able to count on the Party of Pensioners (HSU) which usually joins the victors.
The party presented its new team comprising 22 members and including new personalities such as Branko Grcic, professor at the Faculty of Economy of Split, who may become Economy Minister if the Social Democrats win on 25th November. Jubo Jurcic, professor of economy who also joined the party is the official candidate for the post of Prime Minister. Zoran Milanovic might become president of Parliament. Six months ago he took over from Ivica Racan, who had been the party's chairman for 17 years and former Prime Minister (2000-2002). On 31st January 2007 he announced that he was leaving the political scene temporarily for health reasons. Three months later on 29th April he died.
"The Democratic Union and the Social Democratic Party want to reduce the general elections to a duel," complains Radomir Cacic, the People's Party (HNS) candidate for Prime Minister who is battling to improve his party's number of MPs in Parliament (ten at present) – the HNS is the natural ally of the Social Democratic Party. Radomir Cacic hopes to win 20 seats. The Social Democratic Party leader has avoided talking of the People's Party as a potential ally until now so that votes that might be won by his own party would not be lost.
The Social Liberal Party (HSLS) and the Peasant's Party (HSS) are also refusing to come to any electoral agreement and maintain they will agree to work with any party which shows strength in the negotiations undertaken by Croatia with the European Union and that will defend farmers' interests. "We maintain that we are not close to the Democratic Union or the Social Democratic Party, after the elections we shall form a coalition with one or another of the two parties. But we shall create our programme with a coalition agreement" declared the chairman of the Peasants' Party, Josip Frisic. The two parties are standing together with the Primorje - Gorski Kotar Alliance in the elections.

The Party of the Right launched its electoral campaign on 16th September in Zagreb with the motto "Protect your dreams." The far right party is promising to reduce unemployment, to reduce foreign loans, to ensure balanced development in all of the country's regions, to improve the situation of farmers, to provide 10,000 kuna (around 1,365 euro) per birth of each new child and finally to equip all primary schools with free computers. "Only the Party of the Right can provide Croatia with its dignity again. The party will give hope back to all of those who feel they have been betrayed and robbed so many times. It will be impossible to form a government without us," maintained Anto Djapic who has declared war on Ivo Sanader. The nationalist leader says however he is ready to debate with the Prime Minister and Zoran Milanovic to whom he would like to put four questions on privatisation, co-operation with the International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague, work on Sundays and finally about the appointment of managers of the Central Bank of Croatia – people he accuses of having sold off Croat banks.

After the previous elections on 25th November 2003 Prime Minister Ivo Sanader tried to make an alliance with the Party of the Right (HSP) before international pressure forced it to abandon this venture. The Head of Government then welcomed the Party of Pensioners into his government team and several MPs representing the national minorities. The President of the Republic, Stjepan Mesic, said that he did not want the Party of the Right to take part in the next government. As for the Prime Minister he repeated that a vote for the Party of the Right was a vote for the Social Democrats.

In August last General Ante Gotovina accused of war crimes in acts against Serb civilians committed under his orders during the Oluja operation in 1995 and imprisoned at present in The Hague asked, via its lawyers, to wait for the start of his trial under house arrest in Croatia. Although the prosecutors at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague (ICTY) were against this all of the political parties provided their support to the general's request which according to the polls was also supported by 100% of Croats!
Ante Kotromanovic, a retired general and member of the Social Democratic Party visited Ante Gotovina in The Hague. When it stood in the opposition the Democratic Union also organised several demonstrations in support of the General believed in Croatia to be a war hero. The HDZ, which was in power when he was arrested on 7th December 2005 and transferred to the ICTY is trying to win back the votes of those who think it betrayed the Croats by allowing Ante Gotovina to be imprisoned. On 15th October last Ivo Sanader criticised the ICTY before the UN assembly. "During the massacre in Vukovar the world was shocked. Sixteen years later another shock came," he declared alluding to the ICTY's acquittal of one of the three Serb officers on trial for the massacre of civilians evacuated from the hospital in Vukovar after the Serb victory in November 1991. The Prime Minister stressed that the region will only be stable when the Serb authorities accept the extradition of "the two most infamous war crime suspects: Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic." "What is important in the elections is the traditional difference between the Social Democratic Party and Democratic Union programmes and not their attitude with regard to people accused of war crimes," maintained Zarko Puhovski, professor at the faculty of Zagreb. The polls show that economic problems are by far the main source of worry for the Croats.

On 21st September the President of the Republic, Stepjan Mesic declared on a TV channel Nova TV that he would not support any particular party in the general elections but he did support all of those whose programmes guaranteed the development of investments and the growth of employment and of technological innovation.
On 25th September all of the unions communicated their decision not to organise any type of strike or demonstration in the next 60 days so as not to influence the electorate in favour of a specific political party. Co-ordination leader Ozren Matijasevic maintained that the unions did not support any party but called on the electorate to vote.

Although it has been lagging behind the Social Democratic Party for several months the Democratic Union has just won back its advantage in the polls.
A poll undertaken by Media-Metar mid-October revealed that HDZ is due to win 31.9% of the vote versus 30.1% for the SDP. Four other parties are due to win seats in the Hrvatski Sabor: the Party of Pensioners (7.6%), the Party of the Right (7.1%), the alliance between the Social Liberal/Peasants Party/ Primorje - Gorski Kotar Alliance (7.1%) and finally the union between the People's Party/the Liberal Democrat Party (6,6%).
The polls show that although voters believe the Social Democratic Party programme is "better", they believe however that the Democratic Union protects national interests better. Around 12% of those interviewed are still undecided about how they will vote on 25th November.
The official campaign will start on 3rd November next and will end on 23rd November at midnight. On 12th October last Prime Minister Ivo Sanader accepted the idea of a TV duel with the Social Democratic leader Zoran Milanovic.

Reminder of the general election results – 25th November 2003 in Croatia

Turnout: 61.7%

Source : Croatia Electoral Commission
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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