Conservatives face losing power in Croatian vote

AP News
Posted: Dec 01, 2011 7:45 AM
Conservatives face losing power in Croatian vote

Croatia's ruling conservatives, who have brought the country to the threshold of the European Union but are enmeshed in corruption scandals, are on course to lose power in Sunday's election.

The parliamentary vote will pit the governing Croatian Democratic Union, or HDZ, against a coalition of center-left parties who have convincingly led in all recent opinion polls.

The winner is likely to lead Croatia into the EU when it is set to join the bloc as its 28th member in July 2013. It will also inherit Croatia's shattered economy and increasing social discontent by residents angry at rapidly falling living standards.

A poll by Ipsos Puls agency predicted the opposition coalition will win 79 seats in Croatia's 151-seat parliament, while the ruling party will win 43. Some 4,200 Croatians took part in the survey, which has a 2 percent margin of error.

The conservatives led Croatia throughout its 1990s war for independence from the former Yugoslavia and has ruled since, except for the 2001-2003 period when the center-left coalition took over.

But, the conservatives have recently been embroiled in a string of corruption scandals, including alleged involvement in illegal fundraising for previous elections. Former leader and ex-Prime Minister Ivo Sanader is also alleged to have pocketed millions in bribes to allow an Austrian bank and a Hungarian energy company to the Croatian market.

Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor, the current conservative leader, has been campaigning on a nationalistic platform that claims the left-wing coalition will push Croatia back to socialism. She says her party's chances must not be underestimated.

"HDZ is the strongest when it's tough," Kosor said. "HDZ led the country during the most difficult times with historic results."

Zoran Milanovic, the head of the opposition Social Democrat Party and the probable next prime minister, has run a low-key campaign, believing that the conservatives' tarnished image will be enough for a victory.

"There are too many things that are called historic in Croatia, in fact we are overdosed by history," Milanovic said. "The elections are important because they change the model and we want to restore the faith in the state and its institutions."

Croatia has some 4.4 million eligible voters, including 10 percent who live abroad, mostly in neighboring Bosnia.


Associated Press writer Dusan Stojanovic contributed.