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Cablegate: Local Elections: Hdz Falters, Opposition Gains

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS ZAGREB 000827

SIPDIS


SENSITIVE

DEPT FOR EUR/SCE - KABUMOTO, BENEDICT

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL HR
SUBJECT: LOCAL ELECTIONS: HDZ FALTERS, OPPOSITION GAINS

REF: A. ZAGREB 792

B. ZAGREB 625

1. (SBU) SUMMARY AND COMMENT: Strong personalities,
unpredictable coalitions, and a continued drop in popularity
of the ruling Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) marked
Croatia's May 15 local elections. Coalitions among multiple
parties will be necessary to form governments in the vast
majority of cities and counties, and some may take weeks to
negotiate. Voter turnout was a historically low 40 percent,
perhaps indicating the Croatian public's political exhaustion
after two rounds of presidential elections in January and a
long build-up to these local polls. No electoral
irregularities were reported.

2. (SBU) Small parties posted the largest gains in Sunday's
contest, led by the Croatian Pensioners Party (HSU), which
climbed from about one percent to four percent of seats in
county assemblies, and the Croatian Party of Rights (HSP),
which rose from four to eight percent. The opposition Social
Democratic Party (SDP) and its partners made significant
gains in traditional HDZ strongholds and solidified their
rule in major cities such as Zagreb, Rijeka, and potentially
Split. Several independent lists were unexpectedly
successful and will play decisive roles in such places as
Split on the coast, Osijek in eastern Slavonia, and Karlovac
in central Croatia.

3. (SBU) The HDZ, Croatia's largest party, lost votes both to
apathy and anger, as a portion of its traditional voters
either stayed home or shifted to the HSP and other right wing
lists to protest HDZ reforms, such as cooperation with the
Hague Tribunal. Despite defections, the HDZ will actually
lose power in only a handful of places. It will, however,
grow much more dependent on coalitions - particularly with
the HSP - to stay in power. While talk of early
parliamentary elections continues, a vote of no-confidence
remains very unlikely before 2006. END SUMMARY AND COMMENT.

ZAGREB: PERSONALITY POWER OF THE ONCE AND FUTURE MAYOR
--------------------------------------------- ---------

3. (SBU) In Zagreb, SDP Deputy Mayor Milan Bandic's populist
approach to city government won him stronger than expected
results. The local press portrayed Bandic's victory with 41
percent of the vote as the defining event of these elections.
Falling just one seat short of an absolute majority in his
bid to take back the mayor's chair after being forced out in
2002 by a drunk-driving incident, Bandic needs only one
coalition partner to form his government. His near-majority
allows him to accomplish this without resorting to his
estranged former coalition partner, the Croatian People's
Party (HNS), whose tough talk against the former mayor (ref
A) backfired, costing them more than half of their seats on
the city council. He will likely find his partner among the
two independent lists that passed the five percent threshold,
that of businesswoman Tatjana Holjevac and Croatian-American
millionaire and former presidential candidate Boris Miksic.

4. (SBU) The lists of other popular mayors won reelection by
large margins, including Ivan Cehok (Croatian Social Liberal
Party - HSLS) in the northern city of Varazdin with 73
percent of the vote, Zvonimir Mrsic (SDP) in nearby
Koprivnica with 72 percent, and Vojko Obersnel (SDP) in the
port city of Rijeka with 49 percent. These strong
performances may fuel those who support the direct election
of mayors over the current party-list system.

OSIJEK: HDZ HUMILIATION
-----------------------

5. (SBU) Osijek strongman and recent HDZ outcast Branimir
Glavas was the most dramatic example of personality over
party in these elections. Expelled from the HDZ just days
before the candidacy deadline due to his support of a plan to
regionalize Croatian local government, Glavas rallied his
supporters and drew 25 percent of the city vote and 27
percent of the county vote -- three times as many votes as
the HDZ in the city and two times more in the county. Glavas
will need coalition partners to rule Osijek, but is likely to
find cooperation in the HSP, which also significantly
outpolled the HDZ.

6. (SBU) COMMENT: PM Ivo Sanader had been looking for an
opportunity to rid the party of Glavas and his extremist
views, but he may have instead created a stronger enemy to
his reforms. Glavas's victory also represents a loss for
liberal parties, which have used broad coalitions to keep the
mayor's seat from the HDZ for 15 years. END COMMENT.

7. (SBU) The HDZ's other major losses came from leftist

coalitions in cities the party has ruled since Croatian
independence -- Sisak, 40 km southeast of Zagreb, and Sinj, a
Dalmatian icon of Croatian nationalism. The HDZ will hang on
to power in the symbolically significant cities of Vukovar
and Dubrovnik.

SPLIT: THE STRENGTH OF THE INDEPENDENTS
---------------------------------------

8. (SBU) While Glavas convinced his former-party faithful to
follow him, other independent list leaders built success from
scratch. In Split, a city famous for surprising politics,
the independent business-focused list of former basketball
star Zeljko Jerkov took nearly 15 percent of the vote. With
ten of 25 city council seats taken by the SDP coalition, six
by the HDZ, and the remainder scattered across the spectrum,
Jerkov's four seats will likely be decisive.

9. (SBU) A similar situation exists in Karlovac, where the
SDP and HDZ are in a dead heat. Both sides are scrambling
for coalition partners, and the two seats won by independent
politician Dubravko Delic, along with two seats held by the
Pensioners Party, will tip the balance.

KNIN: THE ETHNIC FACTOR
-----------------------

10. (SBU) The Independent Democratic Serbian Party (SDSS) won
a plurality in the south-central city of Knin, in part thanks
to the party's efforts to bus in Serb refugee voters who have
not yet returned to the area. The SDSS fell short of an
outright majority, but may give up claims to the mayor's
office in exchange for a coalition with the HDZ in line with
their national coalition. There has also been press
speculation that the HDZ will form a coalition with the HSP
and the extreme-right Croatian Block in order to shut the
SDSS out of the city government, but Zagreb party leaders may
discourage this. In either case, the mayor is likely to be
the HDZ's 24-year-old Josipa Rimac, locally popular for her
work as director of the Knin chapter of the Croatian Red
Cross and potentially one of the youngest mayors in Europe.

11. (SBU) An additional factor that may affect the power
balance in some areas is the constitutional requirement that
minorities be represented in proportion with their presence
in the population. The State Electoral Commission will
assess whether the number of winning candidates of each
ethnicity from all parties match this proportion. If not,
additional seats will be added to the city or county assembly
and special elections will be held to fill those seats,
potentially adding to a party's strength.

HSP: THE BUBBLING RIGHT WING
----------------------------

12. (SBU) The gains the HSP made were expected, but not as
large as they predicted for themselves. This far-right party
struggling to remake itself (ref B) will be a key HDZ partner
in several counties, which may well result in a few chief
executive jobs being filled by HSP members. COMMENT: This
will represent some of the first opportunities for this party
to actually govern, a dramatic change from its vociferous
opposition tradition. After disappointingly nationalist
rhetoric during the campaign, it is unlikely the
international community will accept the party as reformed in
the near term. END COMMENT.
FRANK


NNNN

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