Saturday, July 12, 2003

Taking Elections Seriously

It happened late for SDP, but at least they realised that they might put some extra effort in winning next elections. That includes some things that SDP leaders couldn’t have imagined only a year ago. One of them is coalition with their IDS – regionalist party from Istria and SDP’s main nemesis in that particular part of Croatia.

On the surface, SDP and IDS would look like the natural coalition partners. Both parties are at least nominally left of the centre. Both parties, unlike most of Croatian political entities, aren’t ashamed of the fact that large segment of Croatian population fought for Allies in WW2 and that Tito at least did something good for Croatia. Both parties have been, at various times, seen as serious threats to Tudjman’s regime and their membership was, at various times, subjected to all kinds of unpleasantness. Furthermore, on the surface, relations between Račan (Racan) and Jakovčić (Jakovcic), seem most cordial, at least compared to those between Račan and the leaders of other parties that form governing coalition.

However, SDP and IDS can’t stand each other and their enmity manifested itself even in 1990s, when both Račan and Jakovčić could have only dreamed of unseating Tudjman’s boys. The reason is simple – in 1990, at the eve of first democratic elections, IDS was founded but their leaders chose not to participate; as a result, SDP, just like in neighbouring port city of Rijeka, made a electoral sweep in Istria and thus built strong electoral stronghold in that part of Croatia. But SDP hold on Istria was short-lived – in 1992 IDS had built not only its party machine, but also an ideology of regionalism, which Istrians liked much better alternative than virulent Tudjman’s nationalism. But, most importantly, Istrians saw their regionalist party as much better representative of its interests than SDP, burdened both by Communist-era past and by “constructive opposition” to Tudjman in early 1990s. So, in 1992 IDS entered Sabor and in 1993 local elections their candidates replaced SDP.

The latter is the real cause of enmity between SDP and IDS. All politics is local and even with ultra-centralist tendencies of Tujdman’s regime, IDS and people associated with that party created a lot of clout in Istria. SDP wanted the piece of that pie but they always failed in that, and a result, they began accusing IDS of governing Istria in the same way HDZ governed Croatia. SDP was very active in undermining IDS and much more successful than HDZ in doing so. It is hardly surprising that IDS used to be the first of all 2000 coalition partners to leave Račan’s government.

However, IDS is still the most important political factor in Istria, and Istria happens to make the very important slice of VIII. Electoral district. In 1999 HDZ-dominated Sabor passed electoral law that gerrymandered Croatia in a way to compensate HDZ weakness among urban voters. Thus each major urban area was artificially connected with HDZ-dominated rural districts. All except VIII. Electoral district, which was probably considered a lost cause for HDZ.

But even lost causes can bring at least few votes for HDZ, especially now, when Sanader can expect slightly better results than his predecessors in 2000. And not only HDZ, but, more importantly, minor-league parties from Croatian right-wing, whose presence in Sabor is essential for HDZ to get any sensible majority.

Račan is aware that he would have to attack minor-league parties instead of HDZ. In VIII. District, both SDP and IDS can comfortably expect Sabor seats; but if they appear as single ticket, they could merge each other votes and thus gain more seats; and d’Hondt system of vote representation means that those increased number of seats would happen at the expense of small parties.


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