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Election 2000 - Post-Tudjman

The death of President Tudjman in December 1999, followed by the election of a coalition government and president in early 2000, brought significant changes to Croatia. Elections to the House of Representatives, the lower house of the Croatian National Sabor or Parliament, were held on January 3, 2000. In a sweeping victory the coalition of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the Croatian Social Liberal Party (HSLS) brought an end to the decade long rule of the nationalist Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ).

An agreement on post-election cooperation was signed prior to the election by a coalition of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the Croatian Social Liberal Party (HSLS) with four smaller reform-oriented parties: the Croatian Peasants Party (HSS), the Liberal Party (LS), the Croatian Peoples Party (HNS) and the regionally-based Istrian Democratic Assembly (IDS). The Governing Six divided positions in Croatias 19 ministries according to the following formula: 50 percent for the SDP, 25 percent for the HSLS and 25 percent forthe Group of Four (HSS, LS, HNS, and IDS). SDP leader Ivica Racan was selected Prime Minister, and HSS leader Zlatko Tomcic became President of the Parliament.

As the government was being formed, first and second round presidential elections were taking place. On February 8, 2000 Stipe Mesic, a member of the HNS the smallest party in the Group ofFour that had won only two seats in the Parliament was the surprise winner. With Mesics victory, a very broad-based balance of power was established among the two coalitions that formed the government. The Group of Four coalition now provided the President of the Republic and the President of the Parliament, while the SDP-HSLS coalition controlled the most seats in the Parliament and the Prime Ministers office.

The government, under the leadership of Prime Minister Ivica Racan, progressed in implementation of the Dayton Peace Accords, regional cooperation, refugee returns, national reconciliation, and democratization. Croatia's coalition government, entered office in early 2000, facing a fiscal crisis caused by the economic mismanagement and excessive spending of the previous war-era government of Franjo Tudjman. The new Racan government, with the support of the international community and International Financial Institutions (IFIs), embarked on economic reforms and a more transparent privatization program designed to restore and maintain macroeconomic and financial stability.

After the January 2000 elections in which a center-left coalition led by Racan's SDP came to government, the expectations of Croatian voters -- and of the international community -- were high, perhaps unrealistically so. That coalition was brought together (with active US encouragement) with a single purpose: to get rid of the HDZ government responsible for Croatia's isolation. Once that goal was accomplished, there was little consensus within the coalition on how to move forward. As time progressed, this lack of shared vision, coupled with Racan's indecisive leadership style, meant that every tough issue, whether on ICTY cooperation, refugee return, economic reform, social policy or military restructuring, deteriorated into a bickering battle between coalition partners.

In May 2001, Croatia held local elections. By forming post-election coalitions at the local level, the governing parties succeeded in wresting control away from the HDZ in all but four of the County Assemblies. Nevertheless, the HDZ made an exceptionally strong electoral showing, winning a plurality of the vote in 15 of the 21 counties. This result established beyond question that the HDZ remained a potent political and electoral force within the country. The election results clearly pointed out two critical vulnerabilities of the governing coalition: the inherent problem of competition within the coalition itself and the potential for fracturing. The Governing Six parties ran separately in the local elections, each using the contest as a means of measuring its relative strength vis--vis its coalition partners, with an eye toward increasing their power and influence in the government.

The HDZ was the obvious political beneficiary of this internecine competition. The election also pointed out that Croatian voters were becoming increasingly frustratedby the governments failure to produce tangible economic results. Cooperation and unity within the coalition did not improve in response to Mays disappointing local election results. Soon after the elections, the Istrian Democratic Assembly left the coalition, after being criticized by all partners for proclaiming the Italian language as the second official language in Istria County. This was the first of several government shake-ups caused by the lack of coalition unity.

HDZ president Sanader worked hard to change the image of his party. After narrowly defeating hard-line Tudjman hatchet man Ivic Pasalic in a bruising battle for the top party spot in april 2003, he used all means fair and foul to purge the hdz of his rival's supporters. While Sanader's motivation may have been simple political revenge, the result was that some of the HDZ's most corrupt elements wereon the outside. There were still plenty of unsavory characters in the senior ranks of HDZ. Osijek strongman and war criminal Branimir Glavas comes immediately to mind. But Sanader's HDZ took reasonable positions on a number of key issues, including on a new law on minority rights. As 2002 drew to a close, the HDZ was the highest-polling political party in Croatia.

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