Sun, Nov 25, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Croats in Bosnia likely to influence Croatian elections


There is no avoiding Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader's glare on Mese Selimovica Boulevard.

With elections scheduled for today, the posters of Sanader line the highway leading into and out of this city. The race, which appears to be close, is likely to determine whose government will take Croatia into the EU.

And the Croats living in Bosnia could play a big role in that race.

Sanader's party in particular is encouraging the large ethnic Croat population here to vote his way in the parliamentary elections. Not long ago, his party seemed sure of re-election, but it is now facing a challenge from the opposition Social Democratic Party.

Bosnia is a natural place for Sanader's Croatian Democratic Union to look for support. An estimated 300,000 ethnic Croats live here and anyone claiming Croatian ethnicity is allowed to vote. Furthermore, Croats here are known for their conservative outlook.

"It's a public secret that most of the diaspora vote for" the Croatian Democratic Union, said Vanja Skoric, a member of GONG, an election monitoring group in Zagreb, the capital of Croatia.

But the campaign has been criticized by election monitors worried about vote rigging at the more than 100 Croatian polling places planned for Bosnia.

There is also hostility from the Bosnian Muslims, who make up the country's largest ethnic group and fought against Croats for much of the war that ended in 1995. Many Muslims also worry about Croatia's ambitions in the country.

"Sanader's posters are everywhere," said one Muslim, Emir Lakaca, 52, who lives just north of Sarajevo.

"I'd like to see how the Croats felt if we had posters of Haris Silajdzic all over Zagreb," he said, referring to Bosnia's outspoken Muslim leader.

The Croatian government is so eager to solicit votes in Bosnia that it has increased the number of polling places here to 124 from 33 in the election four years ago.

Election monitors say that voting by the Croats here in Croatian elections has been subject to fraud in the past. In 2003, GONG, the election-monitoring group, said it had found evidence indicating that a number of votes had been falsified.

The governing party has strived to jettison its nationalist image in recent years and to adopt pro-European credentials.

But opposition parties accuse it of reverting to the populist methods used during the 1990s under the first Croatian president, Franjo Tudjman.

The conservative party often relies on sports stars to campaign for it.

"Sports stars in the 1990s knew that it paid to do what they were told by" the governing party, wrote Tomislav Klauski, a political commentator who works for, an online news service.

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