HDZ Comeback?

The HDZ triumphed in recent local elections but it may end up being a phyrric victory.

HDZ Comeback?

The HDZ triumphed in recent local elections but it may end up being a phyrric victory.

The smiling faces of Croatian Democratic Community, HDZ, leaders have covered the pages of Croatian media recently, reporting a comeback by the nationalist party formerly led by the late president Franjo Tudjman.

After 10 years in power, a six-party coalition crushed the HDZ in parliamentary elections last year. Now, however, the HDZ seems to have recovered its strength, after emerging as the largest single party in the local elections in 14 of the 21 electoral districts. This may be a phyrric victory, though.

The HDZ may have been left the strongest single party, but it is unlikely to be in a position to form the local administration in any of the districts on its own as it lacks coalition partners. In most districts, therefore, the ruling coalition will run the local governments. The outcome of these elections will, however, increase the pressure on the coalition to end its internal squabbles and close ranks to counter the reinvigorated HDZ.

Some analysts are inclined to play down the scale of the HDZ's apparent triumph. If the latest election results are weighed against the fact that the HDZ formerly controlled two-thirds of local government districts, the HDZ appears to be in a state of decline.

But if a comparison is made instead with the number of votes cast on behalf of the party in last year's parliamentary elections, then the HDZ can be said to have retained the confidence of approximately the same proportion of the electorate.

Speculation about an HDZ election success has to be seen in the context of the widespread belief over the past year that the party would not even survive as a political force.

Although the left of centre coalition led by the Social Democrat party of the Prime Minister Ivica Racan also assumed control of many local government areas, the election has undoubtedly delivered him a serious blow.

The ruling coalition failed to motivate its supporters to go to the polls, in marked contrast to the HDZ and the other right-wing parties, which mobilised their supporters to cast their ballots.

One reason for the low turnout of coalition supporters is disappointment with the new government's achievements so far. The economy has continued to deteriorate, rendering the lives of an increasing number of people almost unbearable. There is a widespread feeling that this economic downturn has not even been arrested.

At the same time, infantile bickering between the six ruling parties has also dented the coalition's support. The degree of demoralisation and apathy has reached such a point that more than 50 per cent of the electorate did not even turn out to vote.

The ruling coalition bears much of the responsibility for its poor showing. Over the past year and a half since it came to power, it has allowed the negative legacy of HDZ government to be forgotten. Although the authorities publicly complain of the dire situation they inherited from the HDZ, none of the previous government officials have been brought to justice, even when it concerns straightforward robbery or corruption charges.

The coalition has done little to undermine the legitimacy of the HDZ's legacy. Instead, the party has been effectively pardoned for all its acts. The government has, in fact, helped return the HDZ to the public stage, allowing the party to regain the political initiative by steering public debate towards the topic of who has betrayed 'the national cause'. Such debates in a country still fresh with wounds from the war easily give rise to nationalist emotions.

The HDZ and the other right-wing groups, many of which recently have been staging public marches through Croatia, naturally want to raise suspicions over the new authorities' commitment to 'the national cause', portraying them as potential traitors.

They have attempted to narrow the debate to a straight conflict between 'the Croats' and 'the Reds' as the former communists are called, i.e., those who are in favour of the Croat national state and those who are not to be trusted in this respect.

The right wing relies on rumours about threats to the state to isolate the Social Democrats. The authorities have failed to resist a wave of nationalist hysteria overwhelming the country. Instead, by attempting to prove their dedication to the national cause, they have merely encouraged this tendency. The government has not realised that its only chance lies in normalising the situation in Croatia.

In general, the government has turned out to be incapable of coming to grips with the problems. The apparent impotence of the democratic parties has already cleared the path for the return to power of right-wing politicians in other countries undergoing a transition from socialism to a market economy. The situation in Croatia has not reached this critical point, but such an outcome cannot be ruled out.

Jelena Lovric is leading Croatian commentator, regularly published in Novi rijecki list

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