Thursday, January 13, 2005

Another Party Switch

When asked, most of Split citizens would probably have great difficulties to name their mayor. Among those who know the mayor's name majority will have difficulties in determining his party affiliation.

Miroslav Buličić (Miroslav Bulicic), mayor of Split, is going to add to the confusion by doing the second party switch in his mandate.

He was originally elected to mayoral post thanks to the deal between SDP and HSLS city councillors – first part of the mandate was given to Slobodan Beroš (Slobodan Beros) of SDP and the second part to Buličić.

In Summer of 2002 Dražen Budiša's (Drazen Budisa's) decision to quit the coalition with Ivica Racan (Ivica Racan) and SDP has created another split within his HSLS party. Those HSLS Sabor representatives not willing to sacrifice their seats and lucrative government posts have defied Budiša and founded their own splinter party called Libra.

A year later, after the split in local HSLS which had mirrored the one in Sabor, Buličić managed to keep his job and majority in City Council by having himself and his supporters joining Libra.

However, Libra ceased to be attractive to many of its members after last parliamentary elections and the defeat of Ivica Račan (Ivica Racan). And since Libra is not the first but second party to splinter from HSLS, the small space for those who like to call themselves centrists and liberals in Croatia got even smaller.

In 1997, following the row about whether to join ruling HDZ or not, defeated HSLS faction led by idealistic poet Vladimir Gotovac formed Liberalna Stranka (LS), which was supposed to be "genuine" Croatian liberal party, unlike HSLS, which had begun to stray to right-wing nationalism.

LS, however, didn't fare well in Croatian opinion polls – it never went past 2 %. So, on 2000 and 2003 parliamentary elections LS had candidates on SDP ticket. With Libra forming in 2002 in order to help SDP stay in power, Croatian political scene witnessed the absurd situation – two political parties splintered from the same source, with same political platforms, with same allies competing for the same and very small section of voters.

It didn't take long for leaders of both parties to come to the obvious conclusion – both parties can survive only if they merge. But even that wouldn't guarantee their survival. Leaders of HNS, third largest party in Croatia, which never was part of HSLS yet had the same nominal centrist ideology, also expressed interest for grand merger.

All three parties agreed to merger in principle, but the actual details and way the merger is to be done creates a lot of tension, especially outside Zagreb where there are a lot of bitter feuds between local branches, guided by personal interests and ambitions of their local bosses. Furthermore, some of those three parties want to improve their negotiating positions in the upcoming merger talks.

One of such operations has just happened in Split. Local Libra branch, together with Buličić, decided to cross over to LS. Zlatko Benašić (Zlatko Benasic), LS chairman, and Zlatko Kramarić (Zlatko Kramaric), charismatic mayor of Osijek and one of LS leaders, came to Split to clinch the deal. Unfortunately for them, Ante Tešija (Ante Tesija), leader of local LS branch, didn't agree to that. At the same time, Jozo Radoš (Jozo Rados), leader of Libra, views this defection as "illegal" and claims that individual Libra members might leave the party but without party offices, equipment and other property.

This affair may have an interesting effect on upcoming local elections in Split and elsewhere. With so much bad blood between people who are supposed to be ideological allies and future partners it is difficult to imagine them creating joint ticket. This would play in favour of larger parties, mostly HDZ, which, at this point, has a good chance of retaking control of Split city administration after eight years.


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