Election fever heats up in Croatia


    Polls suggest a tight race between the ruling Croatian Democratic
Union and the main opposition Social Democrats.

By Natasa Radic for Southeast European Times in
Zagreb - 10/09/07

The elections will be scheduled for this fall.

Croatia will hold parliamentary elections this fall, although the
exact date has not yet been set. The vote will be a battle between the
two main parties in the country -- the conservative ruling Croatian
Democratic Union (HDZ) and the leftist opposition Social Democrats

Polls suggest an exciting and unpredictable race. Currently SDP leads,
but by a margin of less than 3%. For either party, any misstep could
prove costly. Both parties are intent on attracting more voters while
avoiding blunders.

Prime Minister Ivo Sanader says the HDZ will speed up reform processes
and beef up the fight against corruption during his next mandate. His
main goal for the current mandate -- which began in 2003 -- was to
Croatia closer to the EU and NATO. The integration process has
been Sanader's most visible area of success.
Croatia became an
official EU candidate country in 2004, and is expected to obtain
membership by 2010. The country also expects to join NATO at the
Alliance's April 2008 summit.

Croatia's EU bid to move forward, the country had to meet its
remaining obstacles to the UN war crimes tribunal. This was an
important early test for Sanader, as the main outstanding issue was
the fugitive status of Ante Gotovina, a former general who still
enjoyed considerable support. Sanader made it clear that his
government was ready to co-operate with the chief UN prosecutor's
office. That intention was finalised in 2005 with Gotovina's arrest in
the Canary Islands.

The two main candidates for prime minister are current Prime Minister
Ivo Sanader and the SDP's Ljubo Jurcic. [SETimes Photo illustration]

Sanader, 54, has also overseen improvements in the country's economic
situation, with a growth rate of 4% annually. In addition, his
government has implemented judicial reforms and promoted minority

Despite these successes, the prime minister will have to fight hard to
keep his job. He faces a strong challenge from SDP candidate Ljubo
Jurcic, a financial expert who has drafted the opposition's economy

Jurcic, 53, is an economics professor at the
University of Zagreb, and
served as finance minister from 2000-2003. Chosen by the late party
leader Ivica Racan, Juric is viewed as an ambitious but down to earth
person who favours concrete plans to boost the economy.

If the SDP wins the elections, Jurcic will become prime minister. SDP
leader Zoran Milanovic is also expected to hold a high-ranking post --
whether it be vice-president, foreign minister or parliament speaker.

After the SDP lost the 2003 elections, Racan began to work closely
with Jurcic to establish a strategy that would lead the party back to
power. At the time, Jurcic was not a member of the party, but an
independent supporter. He joined the SDP after Racan's death in April,
as the party entered into a new political era. In order to boost his
candidacy, Jurcic has drafted a plan to boost the national income and
speed up the implementation of priority economy reforms.

The late SDP leader Ivica Racan worked with Ljubo Jurcic on a new
strategy for the party. [Getty Images]

The SDP plan aims to raise industrial growth from the current 4% to 8%
in the first year of its mandate. This would drive other sectors up,
increasing the GDP to 6% after 12 months. Along with growth in
domestic production, Juric says, will come higher salaries, pensions
and dividends.

The party is also promising to finance the development of
infrastructure in other parts of
Croatia, thereby stimulating people
to come work in smaller towns. Adjustments would also be made to the
tax system, with new taxes imposed on assets and capital gains.

In addition to Sanader and Jurcic, two additional candidates are
running for prime minister. Radimir Cacic from the centre left
Croatian People's Party (HNS) launched his candidacy earlier this
year, introducing door-to-door campaigning to the country. Cacic
wanted to unite the political left and centre, but his proposal was
not accepted by the party's "big brother" to the left of the political
spectrum, the SDP. They wanted to have their own candidate, and to be
free of coalitions before the elections. To the right, the nationalist
Croatian Party of Rights (HSP) leader Anto Djapic has thrown his hat
into the ring as well.

Croatian President Stipe Mesic will not back any candidate, saying his
political position should be unbiased and neutral.

While the public still awaits a definitive decision on the election
date, the specifics of the voting system are already well known. There
are ten electoral units in
Croatia, based on geography and population.
In each unit, 14 candidates are elected on the basis of the
proportional electoral system. The election threshold is 5%. The
parliament will have eight candidates that represent national

Regardless of the outcome, the elections will be monitored closely by
the international community.
Croatia, on the brink of joining two
major Euro-Atlantic bodies, is expected to hold elections that are
free and fair.