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Monday, February 07, 2005

One Party Less

Since Saturday Croatia has one political party less than it had before.

This occurs very rarely in Croatian politics. It is usually the other way around – big and small parties tend to fracture rather than allow different factions to exist within themselves.

However, when HSLS in 2002 fractured for the second time in its history – first such split in 1997 produced LS (Liberal Party), the reason was more practical than strictly ideological. Many in its Sabor delegation didn’t like Dražen Budiša’s (Drazen Budisa’s) decision to split with Ivica Račan (Ivica Racan) and thus force coalition government to fall which could have produced new elections and ultimately lead to most of HSLS Sabor representatives losing their lucrative seats and administration post. Instead they decided to stick with Račan and form new party called Libra. Neeedless to say, Libra, just like many of those splinter groups, didn’t fare very well in opinion polls – with single digit numbers Račan’s generosity and SDP ticket was the only way for the party to remain in Sabor after November 2003 elections.

With the goal of its immediate survival achieved, leaders Libra wisely chose to pursue most logical course of action and have their new party merged with someone more likely to treat their personnel as an asset. HNS, third largest party in Croatia was the most suitable choice. Although nominally centrist HNS turned very left thanks to Ivica Račan and his ex-Communists sliding rightwards, that party is ideologically still closer to Libra – former Croatian “social liberals” – than any other. The idea was also to include LS into the new, bigger centrist party, but with LS being taken over by Zlatko Kramarić (Zlatko Kramaric) the merger included only HNS and Libra.

The new party is going to be called Hrvatska narodna stranka – Liberalni demokrati (Croatian’s People Party – Liberal Democrats) and it is expected that it could fare relatively well on the upcoming local elections by winning somewhere between 10-15 % of votes on average.

Of course, the merger can help the new party by showing the leaders of HNS and Libra as sane and competent politicians, but it also can backfire. HNS tends to attract the most radical anti-Tudjmanists in Croatia and they might feel uncomfortable with some of Libra leaders like Jozo Radoš (Jozo Rados), who, while serving as defence minister in Račan’s cabinet used to be very sympathetic and protective towards certain questionable characters in his ministry, left by his predecessor Gojko Šušak (Gojko Susak).

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