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03ZAGREB1756 2003-08-08 14:37:00 UNCLASSIFIED Embassy Zagreb
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					  UNCLAS  ZAGREB 001756 



E.O. 12958: N/A



1. Croatia has made important progress on reforms since the
elections in January 2000 brought an end to the nationalist
regime of former President Tudjman's HDZ party. But this
progress is fragile, and if the next parliamentary elections
result in a government that is not committed to continuing
these reforms, it could stall Croatia's movement toward
accession into Euro-Atlantic institutions, a key USG goal for
regional stability in Southeast Europe.

2. One of the challenges to the USG's SEED-funded democratic
governance assistance programs is to ensure the reform
process in Croatia continues by helping reform-oriented
political parties succeed. To do this, USAID implementers
are directed to assist parties in crafting messages that
explain to voters how continued progress on reform is in
their interest and also to appeal directly to citizens to
participate in the electoral process. This strategy is
working. Recent USAID-sponsored polls show that, with
elections expected in late November 2003, it is likely that a
coalition of reform-oriented political parties will be able
to form a government committed to a progressive agenda. End

Political Environment for Assistance


3. Expectations of voters following the elections that
brought Croatia's first coalition government to power in
January 2000 were unrealistically high. Popular support for
coalition parties began to slip when voters realized that it
would take time for some reforms to show results. The
results of local-level elections held in May 2001 confirmed
this, and coalition party leaders were stunned by the strong
showing of the nationalist, right-wing HDZ. USAID assistance
programs implemented mainly by grantees National Democratic
Institute and International Republic Institute are intended
to help reform-oriented parties explain their successes and
the benefits of remaining on the reform path.

NDI Assistance


4. NDI's program works on political party training, both at
the central and local level. Croatia's current leadership
has been frustrated by the public's persistent belief that
there has been no progress toward making good on campaign
promises. NDI is working with the leading coalition party to
develop a communications strategy which explains the
government's achievements over the past three years. In
addition to its training program for members of Parliament,
NDI is also helping parties develop better strategies to
reach out directly to constituents.

5. During the campaign which brought the current coalition
to government, NDI encouraged the development of a citizen
action NGO, GONG. This NGO now serves as a sub-grantee
supported by NDI to carry out a range of pre-election
activities to get out the vote, especially important for
strengthening the momentum for reform. GONG also holds
"citizen hours" in communities around Croatia to bring
citizens into direct contact with their elected officials at
all levels. Response to this program has been excellent, and
has enjoyed participation from all political levels,
including President Mesic.

IRI Assistance


6. IRI assistance has had the highest public profile since
it works not only with political party spokespeople but with
journalists as well. IRI's in-depth political polling has
become invaluable to reform-oriented political parties as
they make their appeals to voters. Top U.S. political
analysts help parties decide -- using extensive polls --
which campaign issues will be most resonant with voters and
then help parties develop messages which will encourage
voters to continue to support reform-oriented parties.

7. IRI completed its second in a series of three polls in
late June 2003. The first poll served as a "wake-up call" to

coalition parties who began -- finally -- to heed advice of
U.S. consultants. They took responsibility for not
fulfilling voter expectations, and then began to
systematically explain their government's achievements of the
past three years. Coalition political leaders have focused
on issues they knew (based on poll results) resonated with
voters, like improving the tourism industry, transportation
infrastructure and making progress toward membership in the
EU. The second IRI poll shows that this message is getting
through and that support for coalition parties is increasing.

8. U.S. analysts presented the data to the senior levels of
Croatia's leading political parties. They explained the
poll's most significant results: the coalition-leading SDP
has begun to gain ground on the opposition HDZ, which has
become stagnant. Undecided voters have begun to lean toward
coalition parties, and the key indicator, the number of
respondents who think the Government is leading Croatia in
the "right direction," is on the rise.

9. The poll showed that the majority of undecided voters --
still over twenty percent -- are women or younger voters, the
natural constituency of reform-oriented parties. The
opposition-leading HDZ has not branched out from its core
constituents of older, less-educated, rural voters and the
percentage of undecided voters who declared that they would
never vote for the HDZ is high. The bottom line, according
to IRI analysts, is that a return of a coalition similar to
the current lineup of political parties and excluding the HDZ
is very likely.



10. We are pleased that coalition parties took the advice of
our USAID-funded experts and also that the advice had such
immediate and positive results. Coalition party leaders have
become confident that they will return to government after
elections in November, but we continue to warn against
complacency. We will continue to urge reform-minded parties
to focus their message on how continued progress on reforms
will help them achieve their long-term goals.