25/11/2007 - D-7
4.4 million Croats including 400,000 living abroad (mainly in Bosnia-Herzegovina), are being called to ballot on 25th November to renew the Hrvatski Sabor, the only House in Parliament. 3,585 candidates from 55 political parties are running. Croats living abroad, who will be able to vote in 52 countries, will elect 12 representatives in 11 constituencies; the country's national minorities will appoint 8 MPs in the 12th constituency. The new Parliament that should be formed 20 days after the vote will comprise a maximum of 160 MPs and a minimum of 100 – since the number varies according to the governments in office.
The Democratic Union (HDZ), the party run by the present Prime Minister Ivo Sanader has planned to spend 19.5 million kuna on its electoral campaign, the Social Democratic Party (SDP), the main opposition party, 15.8 million.
Although there has been much talk in the press about a grand coalition over the last few weeks, the two main parties, which are running neck and neck in the polls, have been fighting a bitter battle.
Prime Minister Ivo Sanader is depending on his socio-economic results: 5.6% GDP growth, an unemployment rate that dropped from 17% in 2003 to 12%; an inflation rate at 2.5%. "Just as we are about to join the European Union (Croatia hopes to join in 2010) and NATO (the country is due to be admitted during the Bucharest Summit in April 2008) and that we have become a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council along with our successful foreign policy – all of these are a part of our programme even though these were not the main elements. We are looking into what is most vital to the Croats and that is living standards," maintained Ivo Sanader on 23rd October. The average wage in Croatia is 670 euro.
If it wins the Democratic Union (HDZ) is promising a GDP growth of 7%, no new taxes, the eradication of the budgetary deficit, the completion of the legal reform and the establishment of new infrastructures. "The Croats are optimistic and confident, they have faith again, from Vukovar to Dubrovnik; the most recent polls show that 60% of the population is confident about the future, contrary to 2003 when only 30% showed their optimism," said Ivo Sanader on 13th November in Zadar. Again he accused the Social Democratic Party of "only being interested in taking up positions." "They promise economic growth, but we already have that, they talk of reducing the budgetary deficit and we've already reduced it" he maintained with regard to the SDP's programme. He stressed that the HDZ is the only party to put a real programme forward whilst the SDP simply advises for an increase in taxes. Ivo Sanader accuses Zoran Milanovic's party of wanting to do away with religious education in schools, of decriminalising the use of soft drugs and of wanting to deprive the Croats in Bosnia-Herzegovina of the right to vote.
When asked about his participation in a TV debate with the Social Democratic Party (SDP) on 19th November the Prime Minister said that prior to this the SDP would have to clarify the roles played by Zoran Milanovic and Ljubo Jurcic within the party since Croats had the right to know which of the two men was really running for the position of Prime Minister. Ivo Sanader compared the SDP to "a two-man rowing boat without a cox". Zoran Milanovic maintains that the Prime Minister prefers to reject the TV debate "because he cannot tell the Croats where the money he used to buy property and his beautiful watches comes from."
Indeed leadership is a problem within the SDP. Although Zoran Milanovic is the chair of the party Ljubo Jurcic is the official candidate running for Prime Minister. On several occasions differences in opinion have occurred between the two men. Ljubo Jurcic is, for example, in favour of the SDP presenting a list in the 11th constituency (that of Croats living abroad), led by the Mayor of Zagreb Milan Bandic. Zoran Milanovic is against this and Ljubo Jurcic had to accept this decision. In addition to this and according to some political observers some SDP members are trying to marginalise Zoran Milanovic and would not be sorry to see Ivo Sanader win the general elections; defeat for the Social Democrats would then at least enable the re-organisation of the party. In addition to this the Croats do not seem to have appreciated the fact that the SDP has already given some ministerial positions to some of its own members before the election has even taken place.
The Social Democratic Party is promising, like its main rival to improve living standards and to fight against corruption. "The Rule of Law has to be financed by all of those who earn money and not only by those who work to live. I shall fight corruption with all the legal means possible, and I shall not understand or have any pity for those who think they can take advantage of public property; that is the vital difference between us and the Democratic Union" declared Zoran Milanovic on 20th October last. Ljubo Jurcic said that the government ministers he will manage, if his party wins, should not have any interests in any type of private company that might make them the suspects of corruption.
The SDP is accusing the outgoing government of having increased the national debt (from 53 billion kuna in 2003 to 106 billion today). It is promising to invest in productive economic sectors saying that only 15% of investments are destined for production versus 30% on average in Europe. Zoran Milanovic caused a scandal by saying that the slogan "Let's Move" used by the outgoing Prime Minister reminded him of Slobodan Milosevic. "I did not say that Ivo Sanader was like Slobodan Milosevic, of course he isn't. I simply compared their ridiculous slogans" he said in answer to the accusations brought against him.
The issue of the Croatian vote abroad is the focus of the electoral debate. "There are 150 polling stations in Bosnia-Herzegovina whereas four years ago there were 30 and in the presidential elections on 2nd and 16th January 2005, 60. What does this mean? asks Zoran Milanovic. The SDP leader believes that the Croats living abroad who pay no taxes in Croatia should not be allowed to vote in the national elections. In his eyes they do not belong to the diaspora. "I, myself am from Bosnia-Herzegovina. If the Croats of Bosnia-Herzegovina vote in the Croatian general elections they are weakening their own position with regard to the two other communities in their country. It is not good for citizens from foreign countries to influence Croatian laws" maintains Ljubo Jurcic. "If the Croat vote abroad proves decisive in the general election results on 25th November next Croatia will suffer a constitutional crisis" warned the People's Party leader Vesna Pusic who says she supports a reform of the voting system adopted for the diaspora.
During the previous general elections on 25th November 2003 only 17.78% of the Croats of Bosnia-Herzegovina accomplished their civic duty. According to the polls turn out is due to increase significantly in the election on 25th November next – simply because many more polling stations have been opened (124) – and will rise to around 40%. The vote of Croats abroad traditionally favours the Democratic Union (HDZ). Likewise Ivo Sanader's party is supported by all national minority representatives. "The Democratic Union will beat the Social Democrats by several points, since the 11th constituency will simply strengthen the Democratic Union victory" repeats outgoing Prime Minister who says it is "imperative to ensure that Bosnia-Herzegovina is a homeland for the Croats and not just for the Serbs and the Bosnians".
The Croatian Party of the Right (HSP), which usually achieves its best scores in the 4th and 5th constituencies, is hesitating between adopting a hard nationalist line or making an attempt to stand as a party which respects European norms. Hence it has asked Prime Minister Ivo Sanader to use his influence to help the HSP enter the European People's Party. "The Party of the Right provides the guarantee that Croatia will not fall into a two-party system" declared its leader Anto Djapic. "The Democratic Union and the Social Democratic Party are not really very different and are just thinking of joining forces in a grand coalition" he said calling on the electorate to vote for his party "because it is a vote for State values that we created in the 1990's." The Party of the Right that has 8 MPs says it wants to triple the number of seats it holds in the Hrvatski Sabor on the 25th November. It has however clearly been declining in all of the polls over the last few months. Anto Djapic, who does not want to take part in a future government led by Ivo Sanader does need the Democratic Union's support in Osijek, a town where he is standing in local by-elections that will take place on the same day as the general election.
The Social Liberal Party (HSLS), the People's Party (HNS) and the Istrian Democratic Assembly (IDS) support a social-democrat government. However the Peasant Party (HSS) seems to prefer that the Democratic Union remains in power. As for the Independent Democratic Serbian Party (SDSS) and the Croatian Party of Pensioners (HSU), they will join the majority which emerges from the ballot boxes on 25th November. On 5th October last in Karlovac, the leader of the Party of Democratic Action of Croatia (SDAH), Semso Tankovic, said that "co-operation with the Democratic Union was a good thing for the first two years in government, but the last two were extremely hard." The leader representing the Bosnian minority did however renew his agreement with outgoing Prime Minister, Ivo Sanader.
These general elections come at an important moment for Croatia. Negotiations with the European Union are moving ahead rapidly (14 of the 35 negotiation chapters have now been opened), accession to NATO seems to be drawing closer and the country was elected member of the UN Security Council on 16th October last, "the greatest foreign political success after the acknowledgement of the country's independence," says the Head of State.
According to the most recent poll by PULS, the Democratic Union and the Social Democratic Party are due to win 30.3% of the vote on 25th November next. The opposition should however win a greater number of seats. The Peasant Party/Social Liberal/ Primorje-Gorski Kotar Alliance (HSS/HSLS/PGS) is due to win 5.5% of the vote, Croatian Party of Pensioners and the People's Party, 5.3% each, the Party of the Right, 4.6%, the Democratic Centre (DC), 2.8% and finally the Istrian Democratic Assembly, 1.9%.
The electoral campaign will end on 23rd November at midnight.