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Cablegate: Right-Wing Coalition Wins Plurality in Early Local

VZCZCXRO6350
RR RUEHAG RUEHAST RUEHDA RUEHDBU RUEHDF RUEHFL RUEHIK RUEHKW RUEHLA
RUEHLN RUEHLZ RUEHPOD RUEHROV RUEHSR RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHVB #0292 0861123
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 271123Z MAR 07
FM AMEMBASSY ZAGREB
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 7461
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS ZAGREB 000292

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PGOV HR POLITICAL PARTIES
SUBJECT: RIGHT-WING COALITION WINS PLURALITY IN EARLY LOCAL
ELECTIONS IN SLAVONSKI BROD


1. (SBU) Summary and comment: A coalition of three parties ranging
from the far-right Croatian Party of Rights (HSP) to the
center-right Croatian Peasant Party (HSS) and the moderate Croatian
Social-Liberal Party (HSLS) won 10 of 25 seats in local elections
held March 18 in Slavonski Brod. The group will need other partners
to form a government. While the center-right Croatian Democratic
Union (HDZ), which holds power nationally, offered to combine its
six seats with the four held by the Social Democrats (SDP), the main
opposition party declined to "go against the voters' will."
Although the election results in Slavonski Brod confirm a general
trend of HSP growth in rural eastern Croatia, the political
situation in that city is specific enough not to be taken as
representative of the whole country. End summary and comment.

2. (U) Three months after the Slavonski Brod city government fell
apart over land-sale disputes, Croatia's sixth largest city (with
58,000 voters) held local elections on March 18. The ticket led by
former Mayor Mirko Duspara (initially elected in May 2005) of the
far-right Croatian Party of Rights (HSP), won 10 of 25 seats in the
City Council. This time HSP ran in coalition with the center-right
Croatian Peasant Party (HSS) and the moderate Croatian
Social-Liberal Party (HSLS); the good result is partly due to the
synergy of this coalition and the personalities involved. The
nationally ruling Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) won six seats, and
the leading opposition Social Democratic Party (SDP) won four. The
remaining five seats were divided among smaller and/or regional
parties.

3. (U) The HSP-HSS-HSLS coalition can count on two more seats won by
the regional HDSSB (Croatian Democratic Congress of Slavonia and
Baranja) - founded and strongly influenced by war-crimes suspect
Branimir Glavas - which already is HSP's ally in the city and county
of Osijek in eastern Slavonia. However, the group will need another
vote in the City Council to be able to govern. The HDZ meanwhile
offered coalition to the SDP, its main rival at the national level,
but the SDP rebuffed the offer. Acting SDP president Zeljka
Antunovic said the SDP would respect the voters' will and support
the winning coalition, without joining it, in case they needed the
thirteenth vote. HSP President and Mayor of Osijek Anto Djapic
promptly invited the SDP to topple the government in the
Brod-Posavina County and thus provoke early elections at the county
level, too. In the county, the HSP is still technically in
coalition with the HDZ, as it was in the city of Slavonski Brod
before the removal of its mayor in December. Early elections in the
Brod-Posavina County would give the HSP another chance to assert its
rise in the region and to distance itself from the HDZ at the
national level as the country approaches parliamentary elections in
November.

4. (SBU) There clearly is a trend of HSP growth in parts of the
country. The party did extremely well in December 2006
neighborhood-level elections in the city of Osijek where its
President Anto Djapic is the mayor. However, there is more to the
good results in Slavonski Brod than HSP's growing popularity. Its
ally HSLS is traditionally rather strong in Slavonski Brod, while
the other partner, HSS, enjoys support in the rural surroundings.
Also, the HSP was perceived as victim of an HDZ-led plot, rather
than the culprit for the early elections. In general, the HSP is
more radical than other parties, and as such more likely to attract
protest voters. The city and the county are among the least
developed in Croatia - "our twilight zone" as the SDP's economic
strategist Ljubo Jurcic recently described it. Nationalism still
plays an important role in this city, where many refugee Croats from
Bosnia found a new home. "People here vote as sports fans, not as
voters who pursue their own interests," SDP leader in Slavonski Brod
Zeljko Racki told the Embassy in February. The HSP still seeks to
portray every election as a question of "to be or not to be" for the
whole Croatian state. Prominent HSP member Pero Kovacevic described
the party's success in Slavonski Brod as an outcome of the "people's
wish to take care of themselves," without having to be "debtors and
slaves to the EU" or part of a "policy of succumbing to foreign
forces at the expense of our own country."
BRADTKE

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