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Europe

Croatia Swings Back to the Right

Results from Sunday’s general election in Croatia clear the way for the nationalistic Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) to return to power after four years in opposition.

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Conservative leader Ivo Sanader is set to take over at Croatia's helm

A day after parliamentary elections in Croatia, Ivo Sanader and his right-wing Croatian Democratic Union declared themselves victorious. According to results, the conservative opposition party has claimed 76 of the parliament’s 140 permanent seats, while Prime Minister Ivica Racan and his ruling Social Democrat coalition secured just 66.

With a mere 60 percent of the 4.3 million people eligible to vote actually casting a ballot, voter turnout was at its lowest in a decade. The low turnout was seen as a bonus for the right wing, which has a stronger tradition of motivated and disciplined voting.

Speaking after the preliminary results were announced on Sunday evening, Sanader was in no doubt about his victory. “We are the only clear winners,” he said. The 50-year-old academic, who claims to have reformed the once ultra-nationalist party founded by the late President Franjo Tudjman, said he considered the results a clear mandate from the Croatian people for the strongest party to finally get Croatia moving.

Sanader is planning to hold initial talks on the creation of a new government on Monday. The new coalition could include the Peasant Party (HSS), which is the only conservative party in the incumbent center-left coalition. Ahead of the elections Party Chief Zlatko Tomcic indicated that he might join a coalition with either the left or right, but on Sunday evening, he stated that he had not yet decided which side he would support.

Humble defeat

Wahlen in Kroatien Ivica Racan

Ivica Racan

Following the announcement of preliminary results, Prime Minister Ivica Racan (photo) appeared on Croatian television, saying that he was prepared to accept defeat. “If these results are final, this really means we do not have enough votes to form a government coalition. In that case I will be able to congratulate those who won and wish Croatian citizens a lot of luck and success,” he said.

Racan, who led the Social Democrats to victory over the HDZ in 2000 on the promise of Western prosperity and respectability, came under sharp criticism from the right wing Democratic Union for pushing through market reforms at the expense of social welfare. Although a run of reforms strengthened the market economy, the average monthly income in Croatia is just €525 ($618), and unemployment soars at 15 percent.

Stating the aims

Both major parties topped their election campaigns with the issue of Croatia joining the European Union in 2007. And speaking on Sunday night, Sanader set out his goals for the future: “Croatia will be very clear and determined. We want to join NATO in 2006 and the European Union in 2007, which is ambitious but feasible.”

Analysts are already predicting difficulties for the Balkan nation in its quest to become an EU member. They suggest that such a clear turn to the right could mean an uphill struggle on the path to securing accession to the union.

Croatian Analyst Davor Gjenero told the Reuters news agency on Sunday that a fresh wave of nationalism was on the rise and spreading through former Yugoslavia. Although there is no fear that a resurgence in nationalistic sentiment could trigger a return to war, there are worries that it could affect the hopes of successfully completing a transformation to democracy and acceptance into the EU and NATO.

Sanader was also quick to state his party’s willingness for international cooperation, “We will be responsible for all international obligations, including cooperation with the war crimes tribunal.” He added that this stance was not an electoral trick but a responsible policy. His comments were aimed at stressing the reformed nature of the party, which claims to have abandoned past defiance under Tudjman, who backed Bosnian Croat separatists and had a poor human rights record.

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