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Croatia - 2004 President Election

Stjepan Mesic was elected president on February 7, 2000, and he was inaugurated as president on February 18, 2000. The leader of the Peoples party (HNS, center-left), Stjepan Mesic, was elected president in the second round of the presidential elections. He drew 56.0% of the vote against the social-liberal Draen Budia, student leader of the 1971 Croatian Spring. As Tudmans former close collaborator, in 1990, Stjepan Mesic was the Prime Minister in the first Croatian non-communist government, then the president of the Parliament, before breaking with Tudman in 1994 to found a new party, the Croatian Independent Democrats (HND), and to later join HNS in 1997.

The President, Mesic, formerly of the Croatian People's Party, but now independent, served as head of state and commander of the armed forces, oversees foreign policy and the intelligence service, and nominates the Prime Minister who leads the Government.

Constitutional changes during Mesic's term reduced presidential powers significantly from the era of Franjo Tudjman, reshaping the office into a traditional Head of State. Mesic, however, retained important foreign policy influence through ambassadorial and intelligence service appointments as well as in his role as Commander-in-Chief of the Croatian Armed Forces.

As the most popular Croatian politician by a double-digit margin with no realistic opponent, President Stjepan Mesic was almost assured of coasting to re-election at year's end. His likely re-election was a welcome sign of solid public support for centrist politics in Croatia.

The ruling Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), which had yet to name a presidential candidate, seemed to have given up hopes of unseating Mesic and is focusing instead on minimizing the damage the presidential campaign could have on the HDZ's showing in local elections expected in May 2005. Having reached the end of any honeymoon it might have enjoyed after coming to power in November 2003, the HDZ faced simmering public dissatisfaction with government and is late to select a candidate. Seeing no benefit in a lopsided loss to Mesic, some HDZ leaders ask whether the party should back any nominee at all.

Public support for potential candidates from within government was lukewarm at best, prompting the party to commission a poll of 2,000 HDZ voters regarding who should be their presidential candidate. Speculation about names from academia and athletics indicated the HDZ likely saw any candidate it puts up against Mesic as a sacrificial lamb; the eventual candidate was unlikely to be closely or historically associated with the party. Science, Education and Sport Minister Dragan Primorac, one of the more popular government figures and not an HDZ member, could be a compromise choice.

With support pledged or expected from essentially all of Croatia,s opposition parties, including the Social Democratic Party (SDP), the Croatian People's Party (HNS), and the Liberal, Peasants' and Istrian Parties (LS, HSS, and IDS), local analysts agree that barring a dramatic change in circumstances, the contest to be called between December 18 and January 18 was Mesic's election to lose. His only declared opponent to date was Slaven Letica of the right fringe Croatian Party of Rights (HSP), which consistently polls in the single digits.

Mesic won 49.03% of the vote, less than 1% was missing for him to win in the first round. His main rival, ruling HDZ candidate Jadranka Kosor, won only 20.20 percent of the vote. The biggest surprise of the election was announced by entrepreneur Boris Miksic who won almost 18 percent of the vote. None of the other ten candidates won even three percent of the vote. Candidate of the ruling HDZ, 51-year-old Jadranka Kosor, expressed her satisfaction with entering the second round of the presidential race. "I have achieved my first goal, and Croatia has shown that it is ripe for a president to have a wife," Kosor said.

Stjepan Mesic was re-elected president in January 2005. Citizen's Organized to Monitor Elections (GONG), the leading local election-monitoring NGO, reported that the January presidential elections were conducted in accordance with electoral legislation, with some irregularities, including breaches of procedure by individual polling committees and inaccurate voter lists. There were more serious problems in the first round of presidential elections at polling stations established for citizens who lived in Bosnia and Herzegovina, including cases of partisan polling officials, voting under names of deceased persons, and inaccurate voter lists.

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