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Croatia - Politics - Tudjman 1990-1999

The parliamentary elections on 30 May 1990 became a cornerstone of Croatias future status in Yugoslavia. The Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) led by Franjo Tudjman gained a clear majority in the legislature. The party had grown into a broad-based political movement whose main plank was the achievement of national sovereignty. Tudjman was elected Croatian President and he appointed Stipe Mesic as the first non-communist Prime Minister. Croatia held a referendum for independence on 18 May 1990, which showed that 93 percent of the population favored Croatias statehood.

Given the national and military imperatives, democracy initially took a back seat in a Croatia in which Franjo Tudjman's Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) replaced the communists as a one-party regime. Tudjman, authoritarian and power-fixated, was a true believer, an emotional nationalist. His appointees dominated the economy and the main media. The day his party took power in parliament, May 30 1990, is the national Croatian statehood holiday. There was a younger generation of technocrats, academics and politicians waiting in the wings in Zagreb who would steward Croatia to democracy once Tudjman was gone. For the most part, they served the regime, mitigating its harsher excesses and shaking their heads in frustration at the caprices of the leader.

President Franjo Tudjman, elected in 1992, served as head of state and commander in chief of the armed forces. He chaired the influential national defense and security council, and appointeds the Prime Minister, who led the government. President Tudjman's party, the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), held the majority of seats in both houses of parliament. Government influence weakened the nominally independent judiciary. The enormous constitutional powers of the presidency, the military occupation of large sections of the country, and the overwhelming dominance of one political party tend to stifle the expression of diverse views. The HDZ had ruled Croatia since independence in 1991 and the party sought to entrench its authority in the legislature and the judiciary, and at the county and municipality levels of government.

A new government was named in November 1995 after multi-party elections were held for the lower house of parliament. The Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) held a majority in both houses. In elections for the House of Representatives, held in October 1995, the HDZ again won a majority of the seats, and eleven other parties also won seats. The US National Democratic Institute faulted the election campaign on a number of points: the electoral law was hastily presented to parliament and passed after only a few hours of debate; a special franchise for Croats living permanently outside the country was created to include almost 10 percent of seats in the parliament; ethnic Serb representation -- based on percentage of population -- was dropped from 13 seats to 3 without the assistance of a census; changes in constituency boundaries appeared to be arbitrary and non-transparent; state-run media restricted criticism of government policies and activities; and the election administration was flawed, for example voter lists were often inaccurate and outdated. The franchise for the diaspora included ethnic croats born and resident in Bosnia-Herzegovina, but excluded ethnic Serbs born in Croatia, who were living as refugees in Serb-controlled areas.

Rules for access to the state-owned media restricted opposition parties' ability to criticize government policies and activities. The constitution provides for freedom of thought and expression, specifically including freedom of the press and other media of communication, speech, and public expression, and free establishment of institutions of public communication. In practice, government influence on the media through state ownership of most print and broadcast outlets limits these freedoms. In addition, government intimidation induces self-censorship. Journalists were sometimes reluctant to criticize the government in public forums for fear of harassment, job loss, intimidation, or being labeled as disloyal to Croatia. The government controlle all national television broadcasting and national radio stations, and retained a controlling interest in two of four news dailies, and some weekly newspapers. Both the broadcast and print media also often excluded news reports that put Croatia or its government in an unfavorable light.

During the October 1995 parliamentary elections, one hour of free broadcast time on national television was made available to each of the registered political parties for the pre-election campaign. Time slots were drawn by lot. Paid advertising on national television was, in theory, available, but state-controlled Croatian radio and television (hrt) refused to run advertising spots from one of the major opposition parties on the grounds that some - - unspecified -- information in the ad was inaccurate and that the ad did not make clear what party was placing it. The HDZ had an advertising budget that dwarfed that of its rivals, and it made heavy use of this budget to buy air time on the national, state-controlled television network during the election campaign.

President Tudjman came out from the war a victor and a national hero, despite his alleged complicity in the war crimes committed by Croatian paramilitaries in Bosnia. Tudjman exploited Croatias post-war insecurities, and his image as the savior of the nation, to establish a quasi-authoritarian regime. He was repeatedly criticized by the international community for refusing to cooperate with the International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague, support for Bosnian Croatian nationalists in Bosnia, and violations of human rights and press freedom at home. By the close of 1999, Croatias progress toward democratic rule and membership in international institutions was thus stalled.

By the close of 1999, Croatias progress toward democratic rule and membership in international institutions was stalled. The forces of political change were gathering strength and momentum, however. Opinion polls consistently showed that a majority of Croats were growing resentful of the regimes abuses and the corruption that permeated it.

When opposition political parties succeeded in establishing stable electoral coalitions in 1999, the HDZs grip on power could finally be challenged. Prior to the 2000 parliamentary elections, there were strong indications that a majority of Croatian citizens wanted a change of political leadership. HDZs political opposition, however, was badly divided. The formation of two opposition electoral coalitions in the months preceding the election, and the rapidly deteriorating health of President Tudjman created the opportunity for electoral success and political change.

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