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Cablegate: Nato Referendum Campaign Dies of Natural Causes

VZCZCXRO0696
PP RUEHAG RUEHAST RUEHDA RUEHDF RUEHFL RUEHIK RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHLN
RUEHLZ RUEHPOD RUEHROV RUEHSR RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHVB #0316/01 1081211
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 171211Z APR 08
FM AMEMBASSY ZAGREB
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 8825
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 ZAGREB 000316

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR EUR, EUR/SCE, EUR/RPM; USNATO FOR JONES,
UNDERWOOD, BAEZ; NSC FOR BRAUN; OSD FOR POPOVIC

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PGOV KPAO KDEM MARR PHUM NATO HR
SUBJECT: NATO REFERENDUM CAMPAIGN DIES OF NATURAL CAUSES

REF: ZAGREB 0086 AND PREVIOUS

1. SUMMARY: The "Committee for a Referendum on Entry into
NATO," an NGO consortium, ended its petition campaign April
12 with less than one-third of the required 450,000
signatures needed to force a referendum. In an April 11
meeting with Pol Counselor, committee spokesperson Aleksandar
Hatzivelkos called the campaign a productive exercise in
democracy despite the failure to reach the signature
threshold of 10 percent of registered voters within 15 days.
He assured Post the referendum campaign was not anti-US or
anti-NATO, though several NGOs actively opposing NATO
membership played significant roles in the petition campaign.
Hatzivelkos added that the Committee's decision to time the
petition drive to straddle the Bucharest Summit and President
Bush's visit had been a miscalculation, as it led to the
effort to force a referendum being linked in the public's
mind with anti-Americanism and anti-NATO sentiment,
discouraging many voters from signing.

2. SUMMARY (cont.) AND COMMENT: Committee members would
present the approximately 125,000 signatures to Parliament
and then shift their efforts away from NATO per se, and
toward a focus on reforming Croatia's referendum law, which
sets criteria they say are virtually impossible to meet. The
Committee is also asking the Croatian Parliament to schedule
a referendum despite their failure to collect the necessary
signatures. Post is confident, however, that the failure of
this effort signals final closure of the NATO referendum
issue in Croatia, particularly with public support for
joining NATO now over 60 percent. END SUMMARY AND COMMENT.

DIVISIONS WITHIN CAMPAIGN COST SIGNATURES
-----------------------------------------

3. At an April 15 press conference, Hatzivelkos announced
after 15 days collecting signatures in 84 cities, the
petition drive had collected only 124,457 valid signatures,
while some 450,000 would have been needed to compel a
referendum. Nearly half of the signatures came from Zagreb,
where the campaign was much more organized than elsewhere in
the country. Hatzivelkos argued that the number of
signatures nonetheless represented strong public interest in
a referendum and said the Committee was still urging the
parliament to schedule a public vote on NATO. Post is
certain the Croatian will not take up this suggestion.

4. At the April 11 meeting with POLCOUNS, Hatzivelkos,
accompanied by Committee member Mirela Travar, had described
the tension within the referendum committee, as openly
anti-NATO NGOs tried to use the petition drive to discredit
NATO, while committee leaders were desperately trying to keep
the campaign focused on the call to make the decision via a
referendum, rather than on whether joining NATO was a good or
bad thing in itself. Citizens must be educated and then make
an informed decision, Hatzivelkos argued, describing his
organization as pro-democracy rather than pro- or anti-NATO.
These internal divisions became critical during the April 4-5
visit of President Bush. While the committee chose the
two-week period around the NATO Summit and Bush visit hoping
it would turn public attention to the membership issue, small
but highly visible anti-Bush protests organized by the
committee's anti-NATO faction served to radicalize the
referendum issue, according to Hatzivelkos, and kept many
Croatians who favor NATO but would like to see a referendum
from signing the petition. He also noted a lack of support
from political parties; the Youth Forum of the opposition
Social Democratic Party, or SDP, was the only active
supporter of the campaign. (NOTE: SDP President Zoran
Milanovic was the most prominent signatory of the petition,
but made clear when he signed that both he and his party were
strongly pro-NATO.)

5. Hatzivelkos also complained about three major flaws he
sees in the provisions and implementation of the referendum
law:
- the 15-day window for signature collection is unreasonably
short,
- the requirement for signatures from 10 percent of
registered voters is particularly difficult to meet when
Croatia's voters lists are widely acknowledged to be inflated
by deceased or duplicate voters, and
- the GoC told the committee it must record each signatory's
government identification number (a social security number
equivalent), while this number no longer appears on
identification documents and laws are contradictory on how
the number may be used.
At the April 15 press conference, the Committee proposed

ZAGREB 00000316 002 OF 002


Croatia's law on referendums be amended to lower the
threshold to 2.5% of registered voters, provide a 30-day
window for the petition drive, and delete the requirement for
personal ID numbers to be included.

POLLS: SUPPORT FOR MEMBERSHIP CONTINUES TO GROW
--------------------------------------------- --

6. While the referendum drive fell flat, public opinion polls
indicate continued growth in support for membership. The
most recent poll, which overlapped with President Bush's
Zagreb visit, showed that 70 percent of Croatians see the
NATO invitation as a positive thing and 62 percent believe
Croatian should accept NATO membership. Post expects this
latter figure in particular could rise a bit further in the
coming weeks.
Bradtke

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
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