Saturday, April 19, 2003

Sanader Loses His Nerve?

Today's Slobodna Dalmacija tries to give positive spin to the biggest Croatian political story this week – meeting between HDZ leader Ivo Sanader and leaders of three minor right-wing parties. According to Slobodna Dalmacija analysts, this is the first sign that Ivo Sanader isn't completely confident that he would pull off victory on upcoming general elections and thus become prime minister. At least not alone.

Slobodna Dalmacija tries to explain Sanader's new anxieties with the results of last Sunday's elections for Orahovica City Council. For the third time in a row, HDZ has gained votes and maintained its position as the strongest party. This time the result is even sweeter because Orahovica happens to be hometown of President Stipe Mesić (Stipe Mesic) and his own party HNS got clobbered at the elections. But HDZ victory is hollow – other right wing parties failed to gain 5% of votes necessary for the seats in City Council, thus enabling SDP and HSS to maintain their majority coalition.

Sanader fears that this might repeat on national level. HDZ could expect between 20 or 30 % of the vote, and this is simply not enough for outright majority. Until late March, HDZ could have hoped for new election law that would raise the bar for small parties, thus making elections into two-party contest between HDZ and SDP. Unfortunately for HDZ, opinion polls showed SDP slipping to 10-15 % territory, and its partners HSS and HNS gaining votes at its expense. If HDZ goes alone, most likely outcome would be HDZ as the strongest party in Sabor, yet forced into opposition by joint forces of SDP, HSS and HNS.

So, Sanader's idea is to create right-wing coalition – HDZ plus minor players that would never enter Sabor by themselves. That includes three parties – HSLS, which used to be part of "reformist" coalition in 2000 only to become ultra-Tudjmanist in last few years; DC – former faction of HDZ "moderates" led by Tudjman's minister Mate Granić (Mate Granic); HSP – far right party of former armed blackshirts that went surprisingly mainstream between 2000 and now. With those parties Sanader hopes to gain extra 15% of the votes that would allow comfortable majority in Sabor.

However, Račan (Racan) can counter that with the use of his own minor players – LS, Libra and various regionalist parties. Of course, that probably wouldn't be enough for SDP to get within 20% vote territory, but it could complicate things for HDZ in some areas.

Despite optimism of Slobodna Dalmacija (which is pro-government these days), Sanader and HDZ still have good chances for electoral victory. But those chances are much weaker now than they used to be only few months ago – partly because of Sanader's pro-American stance in the Iraq affair and partly because he had overestimated SDP willingness to hand him victory in the silver plate.


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