Friday, August 13, 2004

Another Exciting Race?

2000 presidential election was one of the most exciting events in Croatian history. According to opinion polls, it took less than three weeks for Stipe Mesić (Stipe Mesic) to transform from complete outsider into clear favourite and beat such formidable opponents like ultra-popular Tudjman's foreign minister Mate Granić (Mate Granic) and charismatic champion of anti-Tudjman opposition Dražen Budiša (Drazen Budisa).

2005 presidential race is most likely to be equally exciting and unpredictable, although the general outcome is not much in doubt. Mesić, despite having most of his powers stripped through constitutional reform, despite series of diplomatic blunders, despite his flip-flopping at the eve of Iraq War and despite his embarrassing attempts to solve Gotovina Affair remains clear favourite. All relevant polls give him 15-20 % start over his main rival – Jadranka Kosor, vice-speaker of Sabor and one of the most popular HDZ politician. Kosor, despite her successful campaign to present herself as a gentler and kinder face of HDZ and despite fighting for the interests of veterans and single mothers in Sabor, is still burdened by her gender. Despite some window-dressing and pushing of female cadre in Račan's (Racan's) era, world of Croatian politics is still macho-oriented and that reflects on voters.

Kosor's likely defeat at the hands of Mesić presents a major dilemma for Sanader. Loss of HDZ candidate on presidential elections is going to be not only the first major blow for his party, but also crush the myth of Sanader's invicibility. And that myth is the only thing that keeps Sanader's coalition together and provides razor-thin majority in Sabor.

There are some speculations that Sanader is simply going to stay out of it. His relations with Mesić are more cordial than relations between Mesić and Račan in first two post-Tudjman years. Since Mesić likes to present himself as non-party person and "president of all Croatians, regardless of their party affiliation", Sanader can do it without much damage for his party prestige. After all, Mesić and Sanader used to be in the same time a decade ago.

On the other hand, many HDZ supporters are getting increasingly annoyed with Sanader's Europeanism and they yearn for the return of good old hard-line HDZ of Tudjman's days. Despite all the purges, people who could symbolise neo-Tudjmanism can still be found within Sanader's party. Many of them can rally HDZ hard core voters while scaring the non-HDZ electorate at the same time. Their general unelectability, however, plays little part in HDZ internal struggles. Sanader, if he feels threatened by re-emergence of hard-liners within his party, could deal with the eventual challenger by forcing him to clash with Mesić in presidential election.


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