Leftist allies take power as Croatia rejects nationalism

By Adam LeBor

05 January 2000

Croatia woke to a new democratic dawn yesterday as a centre-left coalition of opposition parties celebrated an electoral triumph that astounded the country.

The sweeping victory of the Social Democrats and Social Liberals marks the end of the rule of the late President Franjo Tudjman's authoritarian nationalist Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), and has profound implications for Croatia and the unstable southern half of Europe.

"The people have spoken," said Ivica Racan, the exuberant leader of the Social Democrats, the reformed Communists against whom the HDZ directed so much of its electoral propaganda.

Mr Racan said the results were "realistic", adding: "We were aware of the citizens' feelings. We'll do our best to justify their confidence."

Although Mr Tudjman and the HDZ led Croatia to independence from Yugoslavia in the summer of 1991, the country slid into increasing international isolation as it tried to carve a separate Croatian enclave in neighbouring Bosnia-Herzegovina and refused to co-operate with the UN war crimes tribunal.

The vote against the HDZ was widely viewed as a demand for a new direction, towards Europe and the West, and for sweeping domestic change, democratisation and liberalisation. Neighbouring states such as Bosnia and Hungary welcomed the result as a move to reintegrating Croatia into the region.

The result was "good news for Bosnia and Herzegovina", said Mirza Hajric, an advisor to the Bosnian Presidency's Muslim member Alija Izetbegovic. "With a new government we should have more in common."

Observers said there was a sense of history in the making, that one era had drawn to a close and a new one beckoned.

The coalition seemed set to take 71 seats in Croatia's 150-seat Lower House. The HDZ is likely to have 40 seats, and a loose coalition of other parties about two dozen.

Foreign Minister Mate Granic admitted defeat soon after the first results came in. The mood at the HDZ headquarters was despondent. Glum-faced officials sat, many with their heads in their hands. Nowhere else in the region, apart from Serbia, had the ruling party fused the interests of state, party and president so comprehensively together. But that merely made the HDZ's collapse more total as its edifice crumbled.

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