03/12/2009 - Analysis
On 30th October last the Croatian government announced that 4.4 million Croats, including 400,000 living abroad (notably in Bosnia-Herzegovina) would be called to ballot on 27th December for the 1st round of the Presidential election.
The date, which is atypical, has not been chosen by chance. Prime Minister Jadranska Kosor (Democratic Union, HDZ) wanted to put everything in her favou as she chose the post Christmas date and the end of year celebrations since many expatriates return home at this time. If no candidate wins the majority of the vote on 27th December a 2nd round will be organized on 10th January next.
The present President of the Republic Stjepan Mesic, elected on 7th February 2000, then re-elected on 16th anuary 2005, cannot run for a 3rd term in office. Succeeding Franjo Tudjman (1990-1999), Stjepan Mesic has, during the ten years of his period as Head of State, helped bring Croatia out of its international isolation which his predecessor took it into – he has transformed the country into a real parliamentary democracy. Under his presidency Croatia entered NATO and is about to accede the European Union.
On 11th September last Zagreb finally signed an agreement with Ljubljana on the border that separates Croatia from Slovenia. The latter has a 25km coastline on the Adriatic Sea and wants to guarantee direct access to the sea that has been prevented by Croatia which believes that this strip of land lies within its territory. The two countries called for international mediation to help them define the border. The agreement led to Zagreb resuming membership negotiations with the EU.
The Presidency of the Republic of Croatia
The President of the Republic of Croatia is elected for a 5 year period by direct universal suffrage and by a majority vote. He can only be re-elected once. The constitutional reform of 28th February 2001 that strengthens to powers of the Sabor (Parliament) by suppressing the former Upper Chamber (Chamber of Comitats) significantly reduced the Head of State's powers. The latter appoints the Prime Minister and the members of government, represents Croatia abroad and appoints the ambassadors. He works with the government in drawing up and undertaking of the country's foreign policy. Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces he has exceptional powers in times of war. Finally he can – with the government's agreement -dissolve Parliament, submit a draft law or a constitutional reform to referendum and even hold an exceptional council of ministers on some subjects.
Any candidate running for the presidency must rally 10,000 signatures to his name in order to take part in the election.
21 people registered to run for President. 12 were selected by the Electoral Commission i.e. one less than in the last presidential election on 2nd and 16th January 2005. They are:
- Andrija Hebrang, HDZ candidate, former vice-president of the government and Health and Social Services Minister, 140,600 signatures;
- Ivo Josipovic, the main opposition candidate, Social Democratic Party (SDP), professor of law at the University of Zagreb and composer, 117,000 signatures;
- Milan Bandic, Mayor of Zagreb, was excluded from the SDP after he announced that he was running; he has the support of the Peasants' Democratic Party (HDSS), 60,000 signatures;
- Vesna Pusic, candidate of the People's–Liberal Democratic Party (HNS), head of the parliamentary committee for the negotiation process between Croatia and the European Union, 47,000 signatures;
- Dragan Primorac, former Education Minister, 35,000 signatures;
- Nadan Vidosevic, Chairman of the Chambers of Commerce, a dissident of the HDZ from which he was excluded after he put forward his candidature; he has the support of the Party of the Coastal Regions of Primorje and Gorski Kotar (PGS), 31,000 signatures;
- Miroslav Tudjman, son of former President Franjo Tudjman, 18,000 signatures;
- Vesna Skare Ozbolt, former Minister of Justice supported by the Democratic Centre (DC), 18,000 signatures;
- Damir Kajin, candidate of the Democratic Party of Istria (IDS), 17,000 signatures;
- Boris Miksic, a Croatian who emigrated to the USA where he founded the Cortec Cooperation, former candidate in the presidential election on 2nd and 16th January 2005 in which he won 17.78% of the vote in the first round to finally lie 3rd, 15,000 signatures;
- Josip Jurcevic, historian and teacher, 14,000 signatures;
- Slavo Vuksic, candidate of the Slavonic Democratic Party, former MP for Nasice, 12,500 signatures.
Each of the two main parties have witnessed secession on the part of one of their members who then presented their candidature to run as president alongside the party's official candidate.
Running under the banner of "For a European and Free Croatia" Andrija Hebrang is the "only candidate who has the support of the HDZ managing team," repeats Prime Minister Jadranska Kosor adding, "those who do not respect the party's decisions are automatically excluded." "Those who are not loyal to their party will not be loyal to the electorate," indicates Andrija Hebrang.
With regard to this Nadan Vidosevic said that he does hope however that he will get the support of some HDZ members. "Many in the HDZ are hostages of the party of previous president, Ivo Sanader," he says (Jadranska Kosor replaced Ivo Sanader at the head of the HDZ and as Prime Minister on 1st July 2009).
For his part, Ivo Josipovic is the SDP's official candidate. He won the preliminary internal party election on 12th July with 64.78% that brought him into competition with former Economy Minister Ljubo Jurcic.
Ivo Josipovic says that he wants to act more in direction of foreign policy ; if he is elected, for example he wants to work "to build up a Bosnia-Herzegovina in which Croats will really be equal to the Serbs and Bosniaks" as he stated during a visit to Mostar. The opposition candidate focused his programme on the fight against corruption. "Croatia loses 12.5 million kuna (1.71 million euros) per year."
Amongst others Ivo Josipovic will be facing Milan Bandic, Mayor of Zagreb since 2000 (with a gap between 2002 and 2005). The latter indicated that no one could exclude him from a party he had helped to build and stressed that he was still a Social Democrat. "I am announcing that I shall be running because I want to give my energy to all of Croatia, together with my knowledge and the experience I have acquired during the ten years I have been fighting for Zagreb," he declared adding "I want to work with Croatia, I want to work day and night for the country. I want to build a better Croatia with ordinary people."
Although the official campaign started on 4th November the presidential election is still not the focus of debate.
The most recent poll by Puls for the TV channel NOVA TV, published on 30th November declares Ivo Josipovic winner in the first round with 25.3%. He is due to be followed by Milan Bandic, 16.6% and Nadan Vidosevic 16%. HDZ candidate Andrija Hebrang is running far behind with 7.9%; Vesna Pusic, 5.8%, former Education Minister, Dragan Primorac 5.1% and the 6 other candidates are due to win under 5%.
Whoever the next occupant of the Pantovcak is – this is the area of Zagreb where the Croatian President's residence lies, the presidential election is not due to change the country's policy radically. It will however be possible to gauge the political forces present and notably that of the HDZ, in power in Zagreb since the general elections on 23rd November 2003.