Central Europe Review: politics, society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 2, No 1
10 January 2000

Croatia News Review C E N T R A L   E U R O P E A N   N E W S:
News Review for Croatia
All the important news from Croatia
since 1 January 2000

Saša Cvijetić

The four weeks since the last issue of Central Europe Review have definitely been among the most dramatic ones in Croatia's political life of the last decade.

After the death of President Franjo Tuđman on 10 December 1999, and his funeral three days later, the campaign for the parliamentary elections began on 3 January 2000 and lasted only 14 days, since the parties decided to restrain from campaigning around Christmas and New Year holidays.

Meanwhile, on 22 December 1999, the Acting President of the Republic and Speaker of the Parliament, Vlatko Pavletic, officially called for presidential elections on Monday, 24 January 2000 (with the second round on 7 February, if none of the candidates gain more than 50% of the votes in the first round). These dates were chosen because the constitution stipulates that the presidential elections (both their rounds) have to be carried out within 60 days after the death of the President, and because the Constitutional Court advised against overlapping of two campaigns.

The campaign for parliamentary elections was by far less heated than on previous occasions, in spite of the fact that this time around the results were much less predictable than before. The ruling party did not seem to have been prepared for the campaign, as they concentrated on verbally attacking the opposition, without any systematic campaign in the media.

The opposition, in turn, most probably deliberately, did not directly attack the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) and reduced the campaign to stressing the severe economic problems of the country and its international isolation. The main campaign slogan of the coalition between the Social-Democratic Party (SDP) and the Croatian Social-Liberal Party (HSLS) was: "It is the time for changes," while the parties of the Group of Four - made up of the Croatian Peasants' Party (HSS), the Croatian People's Party (HNS), the Liberal Party (LS) and the Istrian Democratic Assembly (IDS) - campaigned individually. The state television was openly on the side of the HDZ, using its news programs for promotion of the ruling party's candidates.

Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) were extremely active during the campaign. An ad-hoc alliance of more than one hundred NGOs, called "Vote 99" ("Glas 99"), organised a very efficient and omnipresent campaign under the title "Go out and vote," inviting the citizens to take part in the elections. At the same time, an NGO called "GONG" ("Citizens Organised to Observe the Voting") managed to recruit more than 5000 volunteers who agreed to act as observers of the electoral process at the polling stations.

More than 1000 observers from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the Council of Europe, the European Community Monitor Mission and other international organisations and countries came to Croatia to observe the elections, led by Danish politician Helle Degn, who is the President of the OSCE's Parliamentary Assembly.

The so-called Ethical Committee was established, in accordance with the new electoral law, to observe the fairness and moral aspect of the campaign. They issued several statements and recommendations, warning the candidates and parties about their breaches of the Ethical Code.

4006 candidates ran for the office, i.e. about 27 candidates per seat in the Parliament. 35 political parties stood for the election independently, while there were 15 coalitions and 20 lists of independent candidates. National minorities had 30 candidates running for five seats. The proportional electoral system was introduced with ten constituencies, each of which was to choose 14 MPs. So, the parliament would have 140 members, plus five representatives of national minorities, plus representatives of the "Diaspora" (Croatian citizens who reside or were temporarily abroad). The exact number of their representatives, however, was to be determined only later, using the so-called non-fixed quota (their final number will be calculated based on the average number of votes necessary to obtain a seat in Croatia proper).

The last public opinion polls, conducted on 31 December 1999, indicated that the SDP-HSLS coalition would get 56 seats (out of 140) in the Parliament, the HDZ 50, the "Group of Four" 29 and the right-wing coalition between the Croatian Party of Rights (HSP) and Croatian Christian-Democratic Union (HKDU) would get five.

Finally,the elections started on 2 January 2000 for the "Diaspora" and on 3 January they were carried out in Croatia. The first reports spoke about a very high turnout, which in the end was confirmed to be 76% (for the sake of comparison, in the last elections in 1995, it was 62%). The elections passed without a single incident, and the reports of "GONG" and international observers stated that the electoral procedure (with a few small exceptions) was respected and that the elections, in that respect, may be considered successful.

The first results came in the early hours of 4 January, and represented a huge surprise. They differed significantly from the results of the polls and, most probably, from the expectations of the parties themselves. Namely, all the reports were showing that the coalition between the SDP and the HSLS won in nine out of ten constituencies. The final results did not differ significantly from the first ones, and it was clear that the SDP-HSLS were the winners of the elections, together with (the somewhat less successful) "Group of Four." The most dramatic victory for the SDP-HSLS came in Zagreb, where their candidate Ivica Racan won 51% agaisnt the HDZ's vice-president and its most popular politician Mate Granic, who scored 22%.

The final distribution of seats in the Parliament is as follows:

SDP/HSLS: 71 seats (47.0%)
HDZ: 40 seats (30.46%)
HSS/IDS/LS/HNS: 24 seats (15.89%)
HSP/HKDU: 5 seats (3.31%)

In addition to these 140 MPs, there will be six MPs from the "Diaspora" (all from the HDZ) and five representing national minorities. This means that the "Opposition Six" has nearly a two-thirds majority in the Parliament, with 95 seats.

The HDZ immediately acknowledged defeat and congratulated the winners, who, in turn, showed only reserved satisfaction, being aware of the responsibility that is now (somewhat unexpectedly) on their shoulders.

The "Opposition Six" announced that they would stick to their previous agreement and form a new government together. The SDP's President, Ivica Racan, will be the new Prime Minister. The names of other ministers are not known yet.

The new Parliament is expected to be constituted only in February, since the elections have to be repeated at 11 polling stations. In the meantime, the presidential elections will take place. It is possible that the new President will appoint the new government instead of the current Acting President, Vlatko Pavletic, although there are some indications that he would be inclined to appoint the Prime Minister even before the new Parliament is constituted. However, no one puts in question that the mandate for forming the government should be given to Ivica Racan of the SDP, and it is now a matter of negotiations on the time framework.

5 January 2000 was the deadline for submitting candidacies for the presidential elections to the State Electoral Commission. 22 persons submitted their documents, only nine of which were valid (supported by 10,000 signatures of citizens).

The candidates at the presidential elections are:

Drazen Budiša (HSLS-SDP)
Anto Đapić (HSP-HKDU)
Mate Granić (HDZ)
Ante Ledić (independent)
Slaven Letica (independent)
Tomislav Mercep (HPS - Croatian Popular Party)
Stipe Mesić (HNS-LS-HSS-IDS)
Anto Prkacin (NH - New Croatia)
Zvonimir Šeparović (independent)

The two candidates with the highest chances of winning the election are Drazen Budiša and Mate Granic. Whereas Drazen Budiša gained the unambiguous support of the winning coalition, Mate Granic was not the only candidate for the HDZ's nomination. At its dramatic session on 5 January (the last day for submitting the candidacies), the Main Board of the HDZ decided to support Granic rather than his competitor Vladimir Šeks, who was appointed as the Acting President of the Party until its congress on 15 March instead.

The campaign started on Friday, 7 January and will again last only 15 days. Currently, there are no new opinion polls that would indicate which of the candidates stands a higher chance of winning the elections. Although Mate Granic is HDZ's most popular politician and was previously considered a shoe-in to become President of the Republic, the party's severe defeat at the parliamentary elections might be a sign that chances for Drazen Budiša to win the office should not be underestimated.

Saša Cvijetić, 7 January 2000



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