Croatian Government Falling Apart?

Resignations and infighting among Croatia's ruling coalition partners are threatening to bring down the government.

Croatian Government Falling Apart?

Resignations and infighting among Croatia's ruling coalition partners are threatening to bring down the government.

The departure of one member of the ruling coalition earlier this month coupled with persistent squabbling among its five remaining parties could bring down the government.

Were the administration to fall, parliamentary elections would be called, dashing hopes of introducing vital reforms over the next few months.

By walking out of the government, the Istrian Democratic Alliance dealt a serious blow to the ruling alliance which came to power a year and a half ago, after the defeat of the right-wing Croatian Democratic Union, HDZ.

IDS head Ivan Jakovcic, former minister for European integration, cited the government's policy on economic growth and coalition members' attitude towards his party and ministry as reasons for the IDS departure.

In April, the Istrians, backed by IDS, decided that Italian along with Croatian should become an official language, provoking tempestuous reactions from several coalition members. The loudest protest came from Prime Minister Ivica Racan's most important ally, the Social Liberals, HSLS, headed by Drazen Budisa.

The coalition almost fell apart then. Tensions calmed down in the build-up to local elections in May, but Jakovcic announced his resignation immediately after the polls.

The IDS's return to the opposition benches, however, is not the end of the ruling coalition's woes. Even though Racan expressed his hopes that the remaining five party leaders would preserve the alliance's unity, his expectations are apparently not particularly realistic.

The IDS departure has exposed a widening rift between the two most important coalition allies - the Social Democrat Party, SDP, led by Racan and the HSLS.

Mate Granic, Tudjman's longstanding foreign minister, who left HDZ and formed his own party, the Democratic Centre, following the HDZ electoral defeat, believes the coalition could soon begin to disintegrate.

"Relations between SDP and HSLS are becoming worse on a daily basis so that it is quite obvious that Croatia may expect early parliamentary elections in early 2002," he said.

Relations between the two parties have indeed worsened and many analysts believe that HSLS will certainly leave the ruling coalition after the party's convention in September this year. If such a rupture takes place, elections will be inevitable.

Budisa believes his party should walk out of the ruling coalition because the HSLS has strayed too much towards the left on account of its alliance with Racan's SDP.

At a recent promotion of a book by a right-wing journalist in Zagreb, he accused the SDP of turning back to the communist era.

But the clearest illustration of the emerging rift between the HSLS and the SDP came during the local elections in Split, where the former refused to cooperate with the latter.

Racan is well aware of the fact that the current situation in the five-member coalition is not a good one. This is why he said that new elections should not be ruled out as an option.

Jelena Lovric, one of the best-known Croatian commentators, shares the prevailing opinion that an early ballot would be bad for the country, as this would suspend the introduction of the sorely needed reforms.

"There is no single rational argument for going to the polls once again less than two years since the establishment of the current government," she said. "The ruling coalition still enjoys quite stable popular support and still has comfortable majority in the Croatian parliament."

In any case, Lovric argues, the results of such a poll would probably be very similar to the last one. The balance of power, she says, has not tipped in anyone's favour.

Events over the next few months will determine whether an early ballot is called. It will certainly not take place during the summer when political life comes to a temporary halt. This may give Racan enough time to ease tensions among his partners and persuade them to stick together.

Dragutin Hedl is IWPR's project editor in Croatia

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