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2003 parliamentary elections

In the days leading up to the campaign for the 2003 parliamentary elections, coalition members decided to run separately and with no agreement on post-election coalitions. This lack of unity in the coalition would prove to be crippling in the election when facing a strong, unified HDZ. During the campaign season, the HDZ, led by party president Ivo Sanader, largely succeeded in a long-term strategic effort to remake the party's image and transform the HDZ into a modern European center right party. The HDZ led an aggressive campaign against the coalition, highlighting Prime Minister Racan's inability to improve the economy and stressing the fact that the HDZ would move the country to the future and to Europe more effectively. The HDZ essentially co-opted the ruling coalition's Euro-Atlantic agenda. Public frustration with the slow pace of reforms and diminishing differences in the policy priorities of the coalition and the opposition worked in favor of the HDZ, giving it a strategic advantage going into the elections.

On November 23, 2003, national elections were held for Parliament, and the Croatian Democratic Union party (HDZ), which had governed Croatia from independence until 2000, came back into power. The new government, headed by Prime Minister Ivo Sanader, took office in December 2003. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) determined that the November 23 parliamentary elections generally met international standards; however, some issues of concern remained. Although the HDZ's voter base still includes many hard-line nationalists, Sanader's pro-European / pro-U.S. campaign included promises to cooperate fully with the ICTY.

PM Sanader and his Croatian Democratic Union were elected on a platform promising to bring Croatia into the EU and NATO. The HDZ proved it was no longer cut from the same cloth as the nationalist HDZ of late president Franjo Tudjman. The HDZ essentially co-opted the ruling coalition's Euro-Atlantic agenda. Sanader made repeated pledges on the campaign trail that, if elected, the HDZ would cooperate fully with the ICTY. Part of this may well have been Sanader's calculation that the international community needed to hear this message to calm fears that a restored HDZ would mean a return to the bad old days of Franjo Tudjman. He rejected a coalition with the hard-right HSP, even though his government would have only the slimmest of majorities.

The HDZ itself was divided into pro-reform and traditionalist factions, and despite a public commitment to continuing much of the previous governments reform agenda, had little experience with communicating its policies and activities to the public. As was the case in most transition countries, political parties and their leaders had yet to internalize theneed to consistently and proactively communicate with the public. Faced with largely critical media coverage and seemingly indifferent political leadership, Croatian voters remained deeply skeptical about both opposition and governing political parties and apathetic about politics overall.

PM Sanader and his Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) were elected in 2003 on a platform promising to bring Croatia into the EU and NATO. The HDZ proved it was no longer cut from the same cloth as the nationalist HDZ of late president Franjo Tudjman. Not only did PM Sanader enter into coalition with the leading ethnic Serb and Muslim parties and begin serious implementation of programs to promote refugee returns.







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