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Hope on the Balkans: Reports 1997
April 13th 1997 Croatian elections

for Representatives to the House of Counties, County Assembly and City Council

Otvorene Oci report

As a non-political and independent international organisation Otvorene Oci (OtOc) sought to make the best use of our position to make an non-partisan report regarding the elections of April 13th 1997. The development of Croatian civil society is closely involved in our work with local non-governmental organisations who work for the recognition of human rights and the peaceful resolution of conflict. OtOc brings a perspective that differs from other international groups in the area by our close relationship to these groups and our extensive work in the field.

On election day OtOc monitored three main areas; Split, Knin, their surrounds, and the Lika region, including the towns of Gospic, Korenica and local villages.

As the fourth elections after the declaration of the country's independence, they are an opportunity for the citizens of Croatia to select representatives in the development of their society. Coming 20 months after the last major military actions, they express shifts in population and support for the government within the geographical borders confirmed by the Dayton Agreement.

OSCE described the elections as "free and fair", although acknowledged technical faults. According to the President of the electoral commission 70.37% of registered voters cast their vote, an encouraging level of participation in a democratic mechanism.

In the former sectors North, South, East and West, the elections are the first opportunity for citizens to appoint local representatives following the establishment of the former Republika Srpska Krajina in 1991 and its fall after military operations "Flash" in May 1995 and "Storm" in August of the same year. They represent an important step in the reintegration of these areas and their inhabitants, particularly Serb citizens, into civil and political life.

Currently major population shifts are taking place, and greater numbers are expected in the future, as displaced people and returnees begin to reoccupy areas from which they fled. Croatians Serb are returning to regions which were formerly Republika Serpska Krajina but where they will be a clear minority. Croatian citizens are also returning to Eastern Slavonia. Parallel to this many Croats from Bosnia and Kosovo/a are settling in Croatia.

The elections in former sector East are a major development in the peaceful integration of the area of largely devastated, disputed territory and the creation of an environment for refugees to return. They indicate the move of conflict back to the political sphere away from violent warfare. The Basic Agreement on Eastern Slavonia, Baranja and Western Sirijum projected the elections as part of a framework for the UN Transitional Administration of Eastern Slavonia (UNTAES) to pass on its role and authority to the Croatian government. UNTAES withdrawal is set for 15th July and the peaceful elections represent the peak of the efforts to reconstruct public services and confidence in civil institutions.

Croatian-Serb refugees in former sector East, who fled after the military operations in 1995, with Croatian citizenship papers could vote locally for Eastern Slavonia. They were not allowed to cast their vote in absence for the municipalities where they still own property.

Stations in Eastern Slavonia were re-opened on Monday 14th April, due to problems with unregistered voters and inadequate materials. Transitional Administrator, General Klein, allowed any citizen with Croatian identity cards to vote, regardless of whether their name was listed on the register.

Complaints were filed to the Constitutional Court by the Independent Serb Democratic Party (SDSS) regarding the irregularity of polling hours and registration.

Shifts in support in Zagreb are crucial as the seat of power, housing a quarter of the population and a high proportion of the country's most influential businesses. Following the 1995 elections President Tudjman refused to recognise any candidates proposed for Mayor by the opposition coalition. The opposition coalition's 60% majority was paralysed by the President's veto. He claimed he could not recognise such a diverse and incohesive block. The oppositionFs inability to materialise their power both questions their credibility as a real challenge to the current government as well as Tudjman's desire to respect the wishes of Zagreb's citizens.

Results in brief

The ruling party again secured a clear majority of representatives for the House of Counties. The Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) won 41 out of 63 seats. The closest contender was the Croatian Peasant Party (HSS) with a total of 9 seats, followed by the Croatian Social Liberal Party (HSLS) with 7. The Social Democratic Party (SDP) gained 4 and the Istria Democratic Party (IDS) won 2. The remaining 5 members of Parliament were directly appointed by the President of Croatia.

The opposition proved strongest in the cities, winning Split, Osijek and Rijeka city council. In these specific counties the opposition was also more supported than in others in Croatia. In Zagreb, HDZ won 24 seats, the Social Democratic Party (SDP) - 14, the Croatian Social Liberal Party (HSLS) - 9 and the Croatian Peasant Party (HSS) - 3. As yet it is undecided whether HSS will form a coalition with HDZ. Such a union would give HDZ an absolute majority and prevent the deadlock within the Council which resulted from the 1995 elections.

Out of 27 districts in Eastern Slavonia, HDZ won 16. SDSS, the Independent Serb Democratic Party won 11. For the Vukovar-Srijem County Council 34 seats, 16 will be HDZ seats and 8 for the Independent Serb Democratic Party (SDSS).

The results for city council in Pakrac, former sector West, were annulled because the names of candidates were left off ballot papers. Elections were set to be re-held within 2 weeks, to be arranged by the electoral commission of the districts.

The election system

Positions to be elected were representatives in the upper house of Parliament (House of Counties), city councilors and county officials. The city and county councils are responsible for issues such as housing, social welfare, and public utilities. The House of Counties serves as an advisory body to the lower house of Parliament (House of Representatives).

Voters were given five different ballots to cast their votes. One ballot was for the representatives of the House of Counties. Two ballots were for electing county officials, and two were for municipal officials. In the city of Zagreb only three ballots were cast, one for the House of Counties and two for the City of Zagreb, because the City Council also administrates the county.

There were 63 representatives to the House of Counties to be elected. Each county elected three representatives to the House of Counties, as well as the city of Zagreb. Out of three candidates proposed by each party, the party's proportion of the votes dictates the number of candidates elected to the House of Counties.

Two ballots were cast for both the city council and for the county assembly. The first proportionally selected representatives from a list of candidates from each party. Each party leader's name was placed at the top of the list, even if the leader was not running for office. The second vote was directly for candidates representing specific districts within the electoral unit (single-member districts). 75 percent of the officials for each council are elected on a proportional basis, while 25 percent are elected as single-member districts.

The Election Commission of the Republic of Croatia was responsible for running the elections, regionally consisting of a Chairman and four members. All were appointed by the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Croatia. The Election Commission's work included publishing state election lists, defining the set up of polling stations, and publishing the election results. The local election commission published the local electoral lists and registered those omitted, organised and managed the local polling stations and presented the local election results to the national Election Commission.

According to Croatian Electoral Law, electoral commission members must not be a member of a political party.

The different parties

Around 45 parties and election groups were contesting in the elections. Quite a number of which were small independent groups. The main players in this were:

HDZ - Croatian Democratic Union, led by Franjo Tudjman since 1989, has been the party in power since Croatia gained independence.

The main opposition parties include:

There were also a number of regional parties which included Dalmatian Action (DA), Croatian Dalmatian Home (HDD) and Istrian Democratic Parliament (IDS).

Monitoring organisations

The various monitoring organisations can be put into 3 main categories.
  1. International OSCE, Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe
    ODIHR, Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights
    ECMM, European Community Monitoring Mission
    COE, Council of Europe

  2. Local GONG, Citizens Organisation for Observing the Elections

  3. Political KOSPI, Co-ordination of Opposition Parties for Monitoring the Elections

This is not a complete list of monitoring initiatives, merely an illustration of the types of groups involved.

International monitors

On election day OtOc observed few international monitors at the polling stations or on the road between stations. Some ECMM vehicles were spotted on the road on election day. When election officials at the polling stations were asked about the presence of other international monitors most places replied that they had not been visited by other monitors.

The main international monitoring organisation for the election was Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), which is an OSCE office concentrating on election monitoring. It worked on a temporary basis in Croatia in co-operation with established OSCE offices.

The embassies deployed individual teams into specific areas, e.g. the British embassy sent a number of people to monitor Zagreb and Dubrovnik, including short term monitors brought to Croatia especially for the task. The Council of Europe was involved in the training by ODIHR but was not directly involved in the monitorsF location and use.

Political monitors

KOSPI - Co-ordination of Opposition Parties Observing the Elections An agreement was made between opposition parties to co-ordinate an observation of the elections. The official goal of this agreement was the thorough monitoring of the procedure of voting. This would be fulfilled by the parties jointly contacting international observers and collecting reports about irregularities before, during and after the elections take place, as well as gathering data about the actual results. The parties themselves organised the committees for each County and Zagreb city.

The ruling party HDZ also had monitors on the day.

Civilian monitors

GONG is a non-partisan, non-political initiative, which aimed to open up citizens' involvement in political discussion and development, to create confidence and transparency.

The project was formed by the Coordination of the Organizations for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights in Croatia and sponsored by the National Democratic Institute office in Zagreb. Formally GONG is not yet registered, thus technically cannot be considered an NGO.

They organized public roundtables where the parties present could present their programs to the public. They also co-ordinated volunteers to observe the elections and become directly involved in the electoral process.

13 political parties answered a questionnaire in support of giving permission to GONG to monitor the elections. The application was not granted by the Electoral Commission, on the grounds that electoral law does not state any provision for civilian monitors, only political monitors. However, it does not specifically deny citizens the right to monitor. At the same time the electoral law does not forsee the presence of international observers, who had anyway been invited to observe.

The Electoral Commission, according to the law, takes care of the lawful progress of the election process and thus is the body empowered to grant permission to observe.

The National Democratic Institute (NDI) Zagreb office sponsored and trained the GONG monitors, supporting this association before, during and after the elections. NDI approached the upcoming election and GONG's ambitions with experience of similar monitoring initiatives from other south east European countries. They encouraged GONG to use these models for methods of attracting attention, support and volunteers to the project.

GONG monitored outside the polling stations on election day.

Recently GONG produced a report on their work and observations with recommendations to secure votersF secrecy when voting, standard guidelines for sealing ballot boxes, regulated police and military presence, better voter education and information. They are also continuing to lobby for permission to monitor in the presidential elections planned for the summer, the date is yet to be confirmed.

The refusal of the electoral commission to authorise the initiative seriously limits the possibilities for civilian participation in the electoral process and the development of civil society in Croatia as a whole.

Otvorene Oci

OtOc monitors were present at polling stations in the Knin, Split and the surrounding areas, and the Lika region, including local villages and the towns of Gospic and Korenica. Our objectives were to not only observe the election process, but also the atmosphere of election day.

In Split the polling stations seemed to be run correctly and efficiently. There were some signs of poor organisation e.g. some rooms having over 1000 voters registered and the next room only several hundred. Generally there were not long queues. Some voters were turned away because they were not on the voting list. They were told by election staff that in order to vote they must go to the municipal building, but many chose not to vote instead of making the trip across town.

In the small villages around Split, the voting procedure was more relaxed. Even though showing an identity card was a voting requirement some polling stations did not ask for them. It was explained that as everyone knows each other in these areas the identity cards were not necessary.

Villages in Knin district had quite a different atmosphere. At one station a crowd of around 20 elderly people were locked out of the building and were filtered in one at a time. They wrote their ballots on open tables with a man standing beside them. Meantime a bus load of elderly people had arrived at the station all from the same remote area. A number of them were not registered to vote at that spot and had to be transported to Knin town to do so. This resulted in them missing the return bus home.

The polling stations in Knin town were running smoothly with separated polling booths, orderly queues and efficient staff. OtOc was refused access to two stations. Udbina electoral commission, near Korenica, was also very efficient even co-ordinating with surrounding village polling stations with mobile phones.

Police presence at the polling stations was quite high in the Lika area, and often unfriendly in Knin. A policeman in Knin town held OtOc and a local monitor for 45 minutes to check our identity cards. At 9 out of the 11 stations visited in the Lika region police were present, often outside in their cars but also inside the polling stations. At Korenica the anxiousness of voters around officers inside the polling stations was clear. At Licki Osik, policemen were inside the locked polling station and the flow of voters was controlled. Military were also present outside this polling station, as well as at Canak.

Many polling stations in the Lika region were located in villages, as the population is spread out and many areas are still only partially inhabited. Although this was convenient for local residents it caused problems for others who had to travel to remote places by roads of bad condition in snowy weather. Some had to travel up to 40km to vote.

In many places, HDZ posters were in close proximity to the polling station, on the outside walls and even inside stations at Gospic and Udbina. One municipal building also displayed a HDZ poster alongside the polling station address list. The poster was removed in the afternoon.

In the Lika region the atmosphere at polling stations varied significantly. Some stations were quite formal, overstaffed and rather tense. While Krbavica polling station was located in a partially collapsed room with only 3 walls, which prevented proper secrecy or regulation of access to the interior.

In some cases voter registration was a problem, voters were left off lists. In Krbavica the election commission responded by sending a representative to the remote village to register 8 unlisted voters within 2 hours.

OtOc only encountered 5 OSCE parliamentary monitors in Korenica during the day.

Women's participation

In 1996, HSLS parliamentarian, Djurdja Adlesic, conducted research on women's participation in politics. Her survey in Zagreb showed 67.7% of random interviewees believed there are not enough women candidates and 36.5% said women should show more initiative in politics. However, 40% of respondents claimed women's place is in the home, although another 40% said Croatia would be more democratic with more women in politics.

The Women's Ad Hoc Coalition, formed for the October 1995 elections, was again active. 18 groups were involved, 5 more than in 1995, to increase political representation by women, enhance their political and social status, monitor and influence the elections, raise awareness of women's rights and build cooperation among Croatian women's groups.

The Coalition organized roundtables and other events, as well as a publicity campaign in most major cities, centering on Zagreb.

Women's Infoteka produced an analysis of campaign literature from ten parties running for the Upper House of Parliament. It concluded that the Social Democratic Party (SDP) gave the most attention to women's issues, the Croatian Social Liberal Party (HSLS) followed closely. The ruling HDZ was noted for always referring to women as "Hrvatice" (Croatian women).

Media and publicity

Inequality in the amount of media space for each political party is a concern which has been raised by both local and international groups in past elections, including OSCE, the National Democratic Institute and local opposition parties. Recently a group of opposition parties brought, and won, a court case requiring Croatian state television (HRT) to provide equal television slots on prime time news for all parties. However, the problem remains because many small, non-Parliamentary parties are also given coverage, thus, reducing the amount of time given to major contenders.

All parties have the opportunity to buy television air time. In last elections HDZ spent twice as much on television coverage as all other parties combined. Since Croatia does not have spending restrictions or concessions for major campaign parties, their coverage by all types of media depends on their financial status. For example, campaign radio broadcasts in Slunj (former Sector North), were reported in April to cost 10,000 Kuna (2857 DEM) per hour, which is expensive and restrictive.

The Croatian Helsinki Committee (HHO) produced a pre-electoral report analyzing campaign coverage in national prime time news broadcasts on HRT (Croatian Radio and Television). They found HDZ received between 60 - 74.8% of coverage for the period of 7 March - 4 April, while the three opposition parties represented in Parliament - the Croatian Peasant Party (HSS), the Croatian Social Liberal Party (HSLS), and the Social Democratic Party (SDP) - received only 1 - 3.8%. They noted that a large percentage of time was also devoted to small parties, and that if appearances by officials are included in the totals, HDZ received "almost 90% of prime time news coverage."

Additionally, HHO monitored campaign bias in Croatia's five daily newspapers. Independent Novi List was judged equally critical toward both HDZ and opposition and had the smallest difference in space allotted to HDZ (12.66%) and other major parties (11.23% to 3.52% per party). The other papers showed less balanced ratios between percentages of HDZ coverage and the next most publicised party. For example, Glas Slavonije gave HDZ 55.5% of coverage, the Social Democratic Party (SDP) only 20.6%.

HHO claimed Vjesnik and Vecernji List showed the "intention to stigmatize the entire opposition."

Many parties advertised with posters and public events. In Zagreb and Split OtOc observed concerts and rallies for the Social Democratic Party, the Croatian Social Liberal Party and HDZ. Similar gatherings were held in other cities and by other parties. For Easter, the Croatian Peasant Party held a rally where potatoes and eggs were given away.

A few advertisements were found to be unacceptable by the Electoral Commission and the Constitutional Court. Croatia prohibits the "attacking" of political parties or their representatives. One HDZ television commercial, which featured neighbours talking about a man from the Social Democratic Party (SDP) who shot his wife "because she said she would vote HDZ", was banned. It also implied that the SDP man was a communist. A Youth HDZ poster was banned which shows communist-style police dragging away a young man under the caption "Work and Honesty...Remember when?" "Work and Honesty" was the SDP campaign slogan. A Croatian Party of Rights (HSP) advert which ran several times in Glas Slavonia before being banned read: "One vote for HSP, one Chetnik less."

However even the less controversial advertisements by the various parties contributed to a generally negative campaign atmosphere, in which parties spent minimal effort discussing concrete issues or specific party policies.

Perhaps this last analysis of the campaigns voices a cynic's view of Croatia in the process of "democratisation." Regardless, the successful and peaceful stabilisation of Croatia depends on the election process as a cornerstone for the integration of all citizens into civilian and political life, on an equal basis. These elections were a step towards that end.

Otvorene Oci * is a team of long-term international volunteers working for human rights and supporting nonviolent civil society in Croatia.

North Croatia: Bascinska Cesta 51c, 47000 Karlovac, Croatia

Split: Setaliste Mestrovica 72a, 21000 Split, Croatia

Otvorene Oci * is the Croatian Branch of the Balkan Peace Team, which is organized by the following NGO's: Brethren Service, Geneva/ Bund fuer Soziale Verteidigung, Minden/ Collectif du jumelage des societes civiles de Geneve et Pristine, Geneve/ Dutch Mennonites' working group on ex-Yugoslavia/ Eirene International, Neuwied / Helsinki Citizen's Assembly, Geneva/ International Fellowship of Reconciliation, Alkmaar/ Mouvement pour uneAlternative Nonviolente, Paris/ Peace Brigades International, London/ War Resisters' International, London/ World Peace and Relief Team, Vienna.

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