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Cablegate: Opposition Party Candidate to Face the Mayor of Zagreb In

VZCZCXRO6241
PP RUEHIK
DE RUEHVB #0765 3620907
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 280907Z DEC 09
FM AMEMBASSY ZAGREB
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 9768
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS ZAGREB 000765

SIPDIS
SENSITIVE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL HR
SUBJECT: OPPOSITION PARTY CANDIDATE TO FACE THE MAYOR OF ZAGREB IN
SECOND ROUND PRESIDENTIAL RUN-OFF

REF: ZAGREB 756

1. (U) Croatians voted in the first round of presidential elections
on December 27. Turnout for the rainy, post-Christmas vote was low,
at only 44 percent (down from 52 percent five years ago). The top
two vote getters were Ivo Josipovic, candidate of the main
opposition Social Democratic Party (SDP), who received 32.4 percent
of the vote, and the populist Mayor of Zagreb, Milan Bandic, who
received 14.8 percent. The lone candidate from the ruling coalition
government -- Andrija Hebrang of the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ)
-- was edged out of the run-off by Bandic. Hebrang in his
concession speech noted that a crowded field with two ex-HDZ members
running as independents as well as three other right-of-center
candidates had likely cost him the votes needed to make the run-off.
The leading Croatian NGO monitoring the elections, GONG, reported
that the vote went smoothly, with only minor problems or
irregularities in polling places.

2. (U) Josipovic and Bandic will square off in the second round on
January 10. That race should be much closer than the first round
results indicate. While Josipovic can likely count on the 11
percent of votes cast for two liberal candidates in the first round,
voters for several more conservative candidates eliminated in the
first round are more likely to gravitate to the populist Bandic than
to the left-of-center Josipovic. A further plus for Bandic could
come from the diaspora vote, where Josipovic garnered only 5 percent
support. Diaspora turn-out tends to be low -- it was only 16
percent on Dec. 27 and amounted to only 3 percent of votes cast.
But a rise in turn-out among BiH Croats on January 10 could give a
boost to Bandic, who was born in Herzegovina, in a close race.
Higher turnout in Croatia proper, however, according to recent
polling, would favor Josipovic, who can count on a solid SDP base.
We expect turnout in the second round will be higher, given that it
will be held further from the holidays and most voters who may have
traveled for the holidays will be back home.

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3. (SBU) The key themes of the second round were already apparent in
the candidate's election night comments to the press. Josipovic
will focus heavily on his anti-corruption message, and raise
questions about Bandic's ethics. Josipovic told reporters the Jan.
10 vote is a choice "between lightness and darkness." Bandic, a
long-time SDP member ejected from the party when he declared his
independent candidacy for president, will argue that Josipovic is a
"puppet" of the SDP party leadership, and is not representative of
the broader range of Croatian voters. On foreign policy, both
candidates are strongly pro-EU and reliably pro-NATO. Bandic's BiH
connections might make him more sympathetic to Bosnian Croat
positions in debates on BiH constitutional reforms (reftel).

WALKER

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