Overhaul or extinction: Croatia's HDZ faces uncertain future

25/01/2012

Ahead of its upcoming interparty election, analysts question if HDZ will be able to undergo a successful makeover and compete in Croatian politics.

By Drazen Remikovic for Southeast European Times in Zagreb -- 25/01/12

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Five people will challenge the former prime minister, Jadranka Kosor, for leadership of the Croatian Democratic Union. [Reuters]

The Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), which has been the predominant force in national politics in the two decades since Croatia split from Yugoslavia, faces a struggle for leadership after steep parliamentary losses and allegations of corruption.

A month after party leader Jadranka Kosor was replaced as prime minister by Zoran Milanovic of the Social Democratic Party, five candidates have emerged to challenge Kosor for HDZ party leadership. On Monday (January 23rd), the HDZ announced that presidential elections will be May 20th at the party's 15th general assembly.

Some candidates are calling for a party changes, while analysts say HDZ must become more democratic or cease to exist. The party lost 19 seats in last year's parliamentary elections, getting less than 24% of the vote.

"HDZ is sick and needs to be cured. With the disappearance or weakening of the HDZ, the Croatian state is also endangered. If HDZ disappears, democracy also disappears, and the foundations of the country are threatened," candidate Milan Kujundzic said.

Besides Kujundzic and Kosor, other candidates are Darko Milinovic, a former health minister; Tomislav Karamarko, former police chief; Domagoj Milosevic, former deputy prime minister; and Drago Prgomet, member of the HDZ Central Committee.

"The last elections and cure of the party should concern each HDZ member. Democratic changes in running the party are needed," Prgomet told SETimes.

He added the party is looking for new blood and a change, adding that he is convinced he can be the successful new party chairman.

"I am completely willing to accept different opinions and ideas, promote decent work, personal responsibility, respect for family, respect for law, patriotism, and optimism. That's my political program," Prgomet said.

Denis Kuljis, a Zagreb-based writer and a founder of the Croatian newsmagazine Nacional, says HDZ is in danger of becoming marginalised. "It simply imploded with all of its problems. Not one meeting of party officials was held after the [parliamentary] elections," Kuljis told SETimes.

Trials and investigations into HDZ corruption scandals are ongoing. According to reporting by the Croatian daily Vecernji List, the former prime minister and HDZ chief Ivo Sanader has been indicted on charges that he approved the sale of electricity to Mostar's Aluminum power plant at lower than the market price.

In turn, the Croatian state electricity company HEP incurred damages of up to 80m euros.

Last year, the anti-corruption office USKOK issued indictments against 11 people, including HDZ as a legal entity, for illegally siphoning more than 6m euros into a party fund.

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Zdravko Petak, a professor at the Faculty of Political Sciences in Zagreb, says that there is no winning political idea yet that could save the HDZ.

"The rift in the party is obvious, but it seems that still there is no strong rival for Jadranka Kosor in the elections. I think some candidates were deliberately brought to the party so they bring in more votes and by that, take away from her potential opponents, proving that party autocracy is still strong," he said.

Petak told SETimes that it is interesting that more medical doctors are entering politics, adding that a good manager would be useful for HDZ for the time being.

"The party democratisation means that anyone can be elected and that everyone can enter politics. For now, there is no such thing in HDZ. After the election, which will certainly be critical, we will know whether HDZ will continue its political activities or become part of history," he concluded.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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