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Cablegate: Elections 2007 - the Diaspora Vote

VZCZCXRO1258
RR RUEHAG RUEHAST RUEHDA RUEHDBU RUEHDF RUEHFL RUEHIK RUEHKW RUEHLA
RUEHLN RUEHLZ RUEHPOD RUEHROV RUEHSR RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHVB #1024/01 3241510
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 201510Z NOV 07
FM AMEMBASSY ZAGREB
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 8348
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 ZAGREB 001024

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PGOV HR POLITICAL PARTIES
SUBJECT: ELECTIONS 2007 - THE DIASPORA VOTE

REF: ZAGREB 1021 and previous

SUMMARY
-------

1. (U) This cable, the fifth in our series of pre-election reports
(reftels), focuses on Croatia's unique institution of
diaspora-elected parliamentary seats. With polls predicting a very
close race between the ruling Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ)
and the opposition Social-Democratic Party (SDP), the spotlight is
turning to the possible crucial role of the diaspora vote in the
upcoming Croatian parliamentary elections. Under Croatian electoral
rules, the seats of the eleventh electoral district come from votes
of some 400,000 Croatians who do not reside in Croatia, but mostly
in neighboring Bosnia and Herzegovina (BH). With the SDP not even
running candidates in this district, the HDZ is intensifying efforts
to increase voter turnout in BH to capture as many seats as possible
in this solidly HDZ-leaning electorate. END SUMMARY.

WHY DO THEY GET A VOTE?
-----------------------

2. (U) All adult Croatian citizens are guaranteed a vote by the
Croatian Constitution, wherever they reside. Voters who reside in
Croatia but happen to be outside of Croatia's borders on election
day can vote in diplomatic-consular missions for representatives of
one of ten electoral districts covering their place of residence in
Croatia. Each of these 10 electoral districts chooses 14
representatives.

3. (U) A much larger category of voters are Croats in the "diaspora"
who do not have any residence in Croatia, who vote in a special
"eleventh district". Some 400,000 Croatian citizens are eligible to
vote in this district, the vast majority of them Bosnian Croats who
have lived in B-H for centuries, and who have no ties to any
specific residence or district within Croatia. Since diaspora
voting began in 1995, eighty percent of votes in the eleventh
district have come from BH Croats. The eleventh district does not
have a fixed number of seats. Instead, the final number of seats is
based on the average number of votes needed to win a single seat in
the other ten districts of Croatia. This means the number of seats
available to the diaspora varies based on the turnout in Croatia
itself versus the turnout in the eleventh district.

THE HDZ LOVES THEM
------------------

4. (U) The diaspora voters have traditionally supported the HDZ. In
1995, when the law guaranteed 12 diaspora seats, the HDZ swept them
all. From 2000, the number of seats shifted to being based on
turnout, but the HDZ took all six seats in the 2000 election. All
four diaspora representatives in the current Parliament are HDZ,
elected on low diaspora turnout of only 18 percent in 2003. This
support is based on the fact that it was the HDZ which gave the BH
Croats the right to Croatian citizenship in the 1990's and defined
them as part of the diaspora, partly because of territorial designs
the HDZ leadership at the time had toward B-H. Even after the HDZ's
policies toward B-H changed, whenever the diaspora's right to hold
seats in the Croatian Sabor has been criticized domestically, it has
been the HDZ which has defended that right. The HDZ has often
argued that B-H Croats were among the first in the defense of
Croatia and, as Croatian citizens protected by the Constitution,
cannot be treated as second-class citizens.

THE SDP DOES NOT
----------------

5. (U) Soon after Zoran Milanovic was elected SDP president in June
2007 he announced the SDP would seek to abolish the eleventh
district and tie voting rights to a place of residence within
Croatia. Milanovic does not question the Croatian citizenship of
B-H Croats, but considers their right to vote in Croatia an
anachronism, since they are a constituent people within
Bosnia-Herzegovina. Some commentators have pointed out, however,
that the SDP made no serious effort to abolish the diaspora district
while it was in power from 2000 to 2003. (NOTE: A recent
Constitutional Court ruling that B-H Croats have the right to vote
in a referendum on Croatian membership in the European Union appears
to link voting rights to citizenship and not residence. This could
mean that abolishing the 11th district would require constitutional
changes. END NOTE.)

6. (U) Having thus alienated eleventh district voters, the SDP lost
little when it decided not to run any candidates in the district,
and in fact may be hoping to boost its appeal among domestic
Croatian voters who resent the diaspora's electoral influence. A
June 2007 poll found two-thirds of those domestic Croatian voters
polled thought the diaspora should not be entitled to vote in
Croatian elections.

THE BATTLE OVER TURN-OUT

ZAGREB 00001024 002 OF 002


----------------------

7. (U) Polls indicate that one possible election result on November
25 is that the SDP will win more seats within Croatia proper, but
that the HDZ will have more seats in the Sabor thanks to the
diaspora vote. This would be the first time the diaspora seats
actually swung an election, since previous elections have never been
so close.

8. (U) HDZ is well aware diaspora votes might tip the scales in
their favor and has intensified efforts to boost diaspora turnout,
which has been steadily declining since 1995, and has not exceeded
130,000 in the past ten years. In September the MFA urged its
ambassadors and consuls to encourage voters abroad to go to the
polls as "a task of great political significance." Though it made
no mention of any political party, since the SDP had already
announced it would not run in the diaspora district, this clearly
favored the HDZ. The Ministry has also decided to considerably
increase the number of polling stations in B-H. The Croatian NGO
GONG, which conducts non-partisan monitoring of the election
process, has noted that the rationale for this increase is unclear.


9. (U) The SDP, for its part, is looking to boost domestic turn-out,
since larger domestic turnout would increase the number of diaspora
votes required to create an additional diaspora seat or seats. In
this way, even an increase in domestic HDZ voter turn-out would
bring some benefit to the SDP campaign. The SDP is also seeking to
stoke resentment of foreign votes by making "Let's Decide IN
Croatia" its key slogan for the final weeks of the campaign.

COMMENT
---------

10. (SBU) Some observers within the SDP and elsewhere have even
questioned whether an HDZ victory that depended on diaspora seats
would be legitimate. Clearly, a dominant victory by one or the
other party that left the diaspora representation a moot point would
produce a more secure majority. But our sense is that even a result
that was swung by the diaspora would be accepted politically. It
might well spark further heated debate about electoral reforms, but
it would still present a workable majority. President Mesic, who is
personally opposed to the diaspora vote and would like to see it
abolished, told the Ambassador on November 19 that his decision
after the elections regarding which party to give a mandate to try
and form a government would be based on his judgment of which party
could successfully put together a coalition that would hold a
majority of the Sabor seats. Saying, "any seat in the Sabor is
equal to any other," he rejected the idea that in that calculation
he could make any distinction between domestically-elected and
diaspora-elected representatives.

BRADTKE

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