POLITICAL PARTIES IN CROATIA – ELECTION PRIMER,

Posted on November 15, 2011


C O N F I D E N T I A L ZAGREB 002217

SIPDIS

EUR/SCE FOR KABUMOTO

E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/14/2013
TAGS: PGOV PINR HR
SUBJECT: POLITICAL PARTIES IN CROATIA – ELECTION PRIMER,
CHAPTER TWO

REF: ZAGREB 2132

Classified By: Poloff A.F.Godfrey for reasons 1.5 (b,d)

¶1. (C) Croatia’s transition from socialism through war and
finally towards integration in Euro-Atlantic institutions has
led to a proliferation of political parties. Fully sixteen
parties are now represented in Croatia’s parliament and still
others hope to win seats in the next Sabor. Some of these
parties were created when larger parties split; others are
regional parties in semi-permanent coalition with
national-level parties.

¶2. (C) As the November 23 date for parliamentary elections
draws near, all of these parties are either recasting
themselves to appeal to as many voters as possible or are
trying to align themselves with likely coalition partners to
ensure they break the five-percent vote threshold to qualify
for seats in the next parliament and thereby ensure their
political survival. This cable is intended to serve as a
reference. Taken together with a primer on political
personalities (ref) and an upcoming guide to Croatia’s
electoral rules, we hope it will be useful for those
following Croatia’s political race.

=========================
Parties Now in Opposition
=========================

Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ)
——————————-

¶3. (C) The HDZ of today bears little resemblance to the
corrupt, nationalist machine of founder Franjo Tudjman, but
is a long, long way from becoming “Croatia’s Republican
Party” as party president Ivo Sanader tries to portray it.
Although he won the presidency of the HDZ in 2000, Sanader
waited until 2002 to begin a ruthless purge of his rivals in
the party. Sanader portrays the purge as “democratization,”
but the main standard used to decide who stayed or went in
the HDZ was personal loyalty. The HDZ damaged whatever
pro-Europe credibility it had when it did not vote to ratify
Croatia’s Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) with
the EU in 2001. Moreover, few observers believe that an HDZ
government would readily cooperate with ICTY requests to
surrender “Croatia’s heroes” like PIFWC Ante Gotovina or
support the calls of the international community on refugee
return. Sanader and a handful of other modern-looking
politicians represent a thin veneer of respectability
covering up the same old crowd of crony nationalists (absent
a few of the most rotten apples). Sanader is desperate to
lead the HDZ back to government and would consider a deal
with practically any party to get there.

¶4. (C) The HDZ has a rock-solid electorate, mainly rural,
and relatively uneducated. Consistently the highest-polling
party, the HDZ also leads the “party I’d never vote for”
category, and IRI pollsters opine that the HDZ has topped out
at 30 percent. More loyal even than Cubs fans, HDZ voters
would turn out rain or shine; an election with low turnout
would help the HDZ.

Croatian Social Liberal Party (HSLS)
————————————

¶5. (C) Under the imperious Drazen Budisa’s leadership, the
HSLS went from being the second most important party in
Croatia to the brink of political irrelevance in less than
three years. The HSLS is now fighting its way back again,
but only as a member of the opposition. Budisa’s
egotistical, absolutist leadership brought about two
destructive splits in the party; first Croatia’s Liberal
Party (LS) broke away and more recently a group of centrist
MP’s broke away to form the “Libra” party and keep a Budisa
hissy fit from bringing down the Racan government. Now, the
HSLS’ main policy platform seems to be “get Racan” and Budisa
seems ready to make any deal to avenge himself on the SDP.
Without the balance of the eight MP’s who left to form Libra,
the HSLS has become more reactionary than the HDZ and would
oppose any cooperation with ICTY which would impugn the
“dignity of the homeland war.”

¶6. (C) The HSLS formed a pre-election coalition with the
Democratic Center, a group which broke away from the HDZ in
¶2000. Although observers are shocked by this “unnatural”
alliance (Budisa was persecuted by the Tudjman government),
polls suggest this was a canny political move. While the
HSLS and DC were separately polling at three and two percent
respectively, together they poll more than nine percent, much
greater than the sum of their parts.

Democratic Center (DC)

———————-

¶7. (C) Mate Granic, who was Tudjman’s Foreign Minister for
most of that regime, broke away from the HDZ to form DC with
two other less-nationalist MP’s after the elections of 2000.
Granic expected the HDZ to self-destruct after being thrown
from office and wanted to give conservative, but not
nationalist, HDZ members an option. But when the HDZ held
together, the DC never got off the ground. Through tireless
work, Granic has built a party infrastructure in most parts
of Croatia, using his personal name recognition to keep DC’s
label in the public eye. Until recently, DC’s polling
numbers were disastrous (why vote for “HDZ-lite” when you can
vote for the real thing?), but a coalition with Drazen
Budisa’s HSLS has made it likely that DC will break the five
percent threshold and win seats in the next Sabor.

Croatian Party of Rights (HSP)
——————————

¶8. (C) Long the bastion of Croatia’s extreme right-wing
nationalists, the HSP may have damaged its faithful following
by finally repudiating (in September 2003) Croatia’s WWII
fascist government. Until then, the “Ustashe” symbols and
black-shirted thugs were welcome at HSP rallies. For most of
the past three years, the HSP supported Sanader’s assertions
of party reform by making the HDZ look reasonable by
comparison. With recent polls showing that the HSP might be
needed to bring a right-wing government to power after
elections, the HSP leader Anto Djapic is hastily getting rid
of some of the nationalist trappings which would be most
objectionable to the international community. Ironically,
HSP MP Tonci Tadic is broadly considered to be the Croatian
parliament’s hardest-working and usually best-prepared MP.

Croatian Bloc (HB)
——————

¶9. (C) When Ivic Pasalic, Tudjman’s former hatchet man, was
ejected from the HDZ after losing a close, bruising battle
for the party presidency to Ivo Sanader, he formed the
“Croatian Bloc” party to give his still-faithful followers a
new political home. The experiment is failing despite
Pasalic’s eager infusions of cash, purportedly from secret
offshore accounts. HB supporters are returning to the HDZ
brand name, and Pasalic may not garner enough votes at the
next election to win himself a seat in the Sabor. HB has
staked out the ideological ground to the right of Sanader’s
HDZ (opposing any cooperation with ICTY, urging slower
rapprochement with Serbia and Montenegro), but to the left of
HSP. HB signed a pre-election coalition with Croatian True
Revival (HIP).

Croatian True Revival (HIP)
—————————

¶10. (C) Dissatisfied with Sanader’s leadership of his
father’s party, Miroslav Tudjman founded HiP as a political
home for all those disappointed with the HDZ’s 2000 loss.
HiP did well in 2001 local elections, but soon fizzled, since
it had little infrastructure and only Tudjman’s name to trade
on. HiP’s role in its coalition with HB will be to provide
Croatia’s dimmest voters with another Tudjman to vote for.

Right-Wing Fringe Parties
————————-

¶11. (C) The extreme right-wing is littered with small
parties trying to stake a claim to Croatia’s most nationalist
voters. Although some of these parties, like the Croatian
Pure Party of Rights (HChSP) and the Croatian Christian
Democratic Union (HKDU), will continue to win seats at the
local level, it is very unlikely that any of them will again
break the five-percent threshold to win seats in parliament.

=========================
Parties Now in Government
=========================

Social Democratic Party (SDP)
—————————–

¶12. (C) Croatia’s SDP has not gained strength from its three
years as leader of the ruling coalition in government.
Although it has shed the ideology of its origins in Croatia’s
Party of Communists, the SDP retains some of its worst
organizational aspects and still struggles to identify its
own post-socialist political identity. In pursuing the
government’s reform agenda, the SDP has alienated some of its
natural constituencies, particularly organized labor. As the
election approaches, many Croatian voters identify the
successes of the coalition government with the SDP’s

coalition partners. The government’s failures, however, seem
to have stuck with the SDP, which catches the blame for
foreign policy gaffes, reductions in the social safety net
and (according to a recent poll) for being the cause of
squabbles between coalition partners.

¶13. (C) While Croatia’s other leading parties have updated
and streamlined their leadership structure in advance of the
election, the SDP has not. PM Ivica Racan maintains a firm
hold on the party presidency, and together with a few party
leaders like Defense Minister Zeljka Antunovic, Foreign
Minister Tonino Picula and Labor Minister Davorko Vidovic,
tries to present a modern, left-of-center image of a “normal”
European Social Democratic party. But Racan did not take
advantage of the SDP’s time in government to bring new blood
into the top ranks of the leadership and to retire some of
the figures who look like throwbacks to SDP’s communist
roots.

¶14. (C) Other parties have cranked up their public-relations
machines, but the SDP has yet to get going. Earlier polls
suggested that the existing coalition had a comfortable
margin; SDP focused its efforts on how to divide up
ministerial portfolios rather than on the campaign. New
polls show this was folly; the SDP’s inaction has given the
opposition a running start. It may not be too late, however,
since polls suggest that the biggest block of undecided
voters are overwhelmingly young and female. This is where
the SDP needs to focus if it wants to gain ground in the
sprint to elections.

¶15. (C) The SDP has signed a pre-election coalition
agreement with the Istrian Democratic Union (IDS). This
tactical alliance will probably help the two parties corner
most of the votes in Istria, Croatia’s most highly-developed
region, but has put the noses of some SDP faithful out of
joint.

Croatian People’s Party (HNS)
—————————–

¶16. (C) With its urban, professional appeal, the HNS has
grown significantly since elections in 2000. Despite its
small representation in the parliament (only two seats), the
HNS probably benefited most from being in government. Public
Works Minister Radimir Cacic (HNS) gets most of the credit
for a popular highway project and while President Mesic by
law had to resign from the HNS when he took office, HNS
strategists never let the public forget where the popular
president’s political roots are. HNS is left-of-center and
appeals most to younger, educated voters, which puts it in
competition for the same electorate with which SDP seeks to
improve its standing. Conflicts with the SDP, especially in
the Zagreb city council, have spoiled an otherwise productive
relationship. HNS has signed pre-election coalition
agreements with two much smaller regional parties, one near
Rijeka, the other in the eastern part of Croatia. These
agreements will help both the regional parties and HNS win
seats in contested districts. Some say that HNS has not done
enough to build a party infrastructure outside of Zagreb.

Croatian Peasants’ Party (HSS)
——————————

¶17. (C) As Croatia’s third-largest party, the HSS has grown
used to the gravy that being “kingmaker” in the coalition
brings. Its core constituency is (naturally) rural, older,
and churchgoing. Party President (and parliament speaker)
Zlatko Tomcic rules the party with an iron hand in all
respects, from policy choices to personnel. While the HSS
has in general been a loyal coalition partner, it has
prevented the GoC from moving forward in some aspects of
privatization. Although it is a strong supporter of the
GoC’s bid for EU membership, it has taken a back seat on
foreign policy choices. The HSS presents itself as a
right-of-center party, and has a party platform similar to
that of Christian Democrats elsewhere in Europe. But HSS
critics say that the HSS has no ideology; it is only in
government for what it can get out of it for itself and its
constituents.

¶18. (C) The HSS reorganized itself into regional subunits
well in advance of elections and has been running a modern,
American-style campaign at the grass roots. The HSS declared
months ago that it will not form any pre-election coalitions.
While HSS party leaders tell us privately that they would
not plan on entering a coalition with the HDZ, most believe
the HSS would go with whichever side offered them the best
deal.

Libra
—–

¶19. (C) Libra broke away from the HSLS in June 2002 when a
group of eight MPs chose to stay with the Racan government
rather than force early elections. With no time to develop
an effective national-level infrastructure and no soldiers to
serve the eight “generals” who lead the party, Libra will not
make it into the next Sabor unless PM Racan chooses to reward
its loyalty by including a few Libra leaders on SDP’s list of
candidates. Libra’s centrist, academic approach is effective
in parliament, but useless in an election campaign.

Regional Parties
—————-

¶20. (C) Istrian Democratic Union (IDS). The IDS has run
Croatia’s western, most developed county since independence,
despite Tudjman’s attempts to displace it with the HDZ. The
IDS still polls higher than any other party in Istria, but
party leadership has been tainted by scandal. The IDS
generally supports progressive policies at the national
level, and has championed minority rights in the parliament
(Istria has a significant Italian minority). The IDS has
signed a pre-election coalition agreement (valid only for
Istria) with the SDP.

¶21. (C) Primorsko Goranski Union(PGS). A micro-party in
Rijeka, Croatia’s third-largest city, the PGS’ alliance with
the HNS will likely mean at least one seat in the parliament.
PGS has supported the Racan government’s progressive
policies, although not formally a member of the coalition.

¶22. (C) Croatian Slavonia – Baranya Party (SBSH). Another
micro-party, this time from the agricultural heartland of
eastern Croatia. This party, although generally more
conservative than PGS, has formed a pre-election alliance
with the HNS in one electoral district.
MOON

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