wikileaks ico  Home papers ico  Cables mirror and Afghan War Diary privacy policy  Privacy
IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
03ZAGREB2458 2003-11-21 11:46:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Zagreb
Cable title:  

ELECTIONS: CAMPAIGN CIRCUS IN ZAGREB

Tags:   PGOV PHUM HR 
pdf how-to read a cable
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
					  C O N F I D E N T I A L ZAGREB 002458 

SIPDIS


E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/21/2013
TAGS: PGOV PHUM HR
SUBJECT: ELECTIONS: CAMPAIGN CIRCUS IN ZAGREB

Classified By: Poloff Alexandra Shuey, for reasons 1.5 (b,d)

Summary
-------



1. (C) On the last day of the campaign for the November 23
parliamentary elections, there is no escaping campaign hoopla
in Zagreb. All of Croatia's political parties -- even those
with no hope of crossing the five percent vote threshold
needed to win seats -- are pulling out all the stops. They
are spending freely; according to one leading daily, more
than USD 10 million will have been spent during the short
campaign, more than five dollars per person expected to vote.
Election-related TV and radio ads dominate the airwaves;
party campaign cars can be seen plying city streets blaring
Croatian music and party doctrine; activists are handing out
pamphlets on busy corners; and political rallies -- complete
with party literature, food, music, and Croatian celebrity
guest appearances -- take place every night in Zagreb's main
square. The parties are running full force in these last
pre-election days, turning the Croatian capital into
something of an election-obsessed three-ring circus. In the
last days of the campaign, PM Racan's SDP seems to have
finally found a rhythm that works, but this will likely be
too little, too late. End summary.


HDZ Campaign Dominates the Scene


--------------------------





2. (U) As we approach the November 23 elections, many of the
political parties are sponsoring concerts and political
rallies in Zagreb's main Ban Jelacic Square as well as other
locations around town, and increasing numbers of party
activists wander the pedestrian-only streets, handing out
campaign pamphlets with fervor. Both the SDP and HDZ wound
up their campaigns with competing rallies on November 20
about ten blocks apart in downtown Zagreb. Both events drew
big crowds, but the SDP managed to land two of Croatia's
hottest pop acts and out-drew the HDZ by a solid margin. The
HDZ crowd was older and veterans from Croatia's war of
independence were prominent. The SDP crowd was a mix of
party faithful, curious voters and (overwhelmingly) younger
Zagrebers waiting for the politicians to get off the stage
and the rock 'n roll to start. The Peasants Party (HSS)
rally on November 19 in Zagreb had a similar format; an old,
stodgy membership turned up for free beer and music only to
have their hats blown off by a way-too-loud state-of-the-art
sound system.

Cult of Personality?


--------------------------





3. (SBU) Sanader's image permeates the HDZ's political
campaign; he seems confident that the personality cult he is
developing -- along with the self-confident aura of the
campaign -- will result in victory for his party. In fact,
in interviews and public statements, the HDZ increasingly has
been behaving as if it has already won. In this vein,
Sanader continues to pull out all the stops, airing not only
campaign ads (designed by a U.S. firm), but also snippets of
an interview with Austrian Prime Minister Schusssel,
professing to be Sanader's friend and singing HDZ's praises.
In broadcasting this ad and other testimonials from a number
of right-of-center European leaders, Sanader seeks to
reassure voters who have doubts about whether an HDZ
government will be able to bring Croatia closer to EU
membership.



4. (SBU) Television ads, which until this past weekend had
been seen mainly during prime time and mostly for HDZ, have
in the final days of the campaign absolutely taken over the
airwaves. Often five or six campaign ads will air back to
back -- sometimes with two HDZ ads among them -- and they can
be seen at all hours of the day. They range from the
polished and professional to the humorous and clearly low
budget. Much as is the case with the billboards, the HDZ
appears to have put the most money and effort into their ads,
which depict Sanader walking through a variety of Croatian
cities, speaking with and "high five-ing" various Croatians
-- old, young, traditional, and hip -- and ending with him
emerging from a crowd of people, the EU stars circling about
the screen and then melding into the Croatian flag as the
backdrop all blurs and the image focuses on Sanader himself
and the HDZ campaign slogan, "Get Croatia Moving." The
campaign has been well-oiled, although some say it is too
slick.



5. (SBU) While conducted on a smaller scale compared to
HDZ, HSS and HNS -- both until elections were called part of
SDP's ruling coalition -- seem to be effectively appealing to
their respective electorates, or at least are attempting to.
This week, HSS President Tomcic took up a "personalization"
strategy; increasingly HSS billboards have moved from the
slightly bizarre tree-hugging man with the "I love my land"

slogan, to one with Tomcic as the dominant image with the
Croatian countryside backdrop and the slogan remaining. The
HNS on the other hand, has flaunted the new Zagreb-Split
highway at every opportunity. Their billboards all picture
the party's two leaders in the foreground, with images of the
highway and the EU and Croatian flags in the backdrop. One
HNS TV ad depicts a middle-aged man driving home on the
highway, pulling up to his house -- complete with a gnome in
the front yard -- and sighing with happiness. The references
to the highways are HNS's attempt to profit from the road
construction that has gone on busily over the past three
years.

SDP: Retooling, but Out of Time


--------------------------





6. (C) Until the last week of the election campaign, the
SDP effort campaign was floundering. The party seemed to be
behaving as if it had already lost the election, sending a
confused, unclear message in which the government's successes
were not highlighted. But in the final week of the campaign,
the SDP has adjusted its message, learning from the success
of the personalized campaigns of other parties. New posters,
billboards and TV ads feature PM Racan -- looking very Prime
Ministerial indeed -- prominently. Racan scored well in a
head-to-head debate with Sanader, but since that event
competed with a soccer match in which Croatia beat Slovenia
to qualify for the European Champions League, few voters
noticed. In the final days, the SDP developed a new slogan,
and began asking voters not to choose between left or right,
but forward or back. SDP leaders tell us that momentum is
swinging in their direction. "If we only had five more days,
we would beat them soundly," Igor Dragovan, SDP's Secretary
General told us on November 20.

Smaller Parties


--------------------------





7. (U) The smaller parties and the plethora of independent
candidates, none of whom has much chance of ending up in the
next Parliament, seem -- somewhat inexplicably -- just as
eager as the larger parties to get the word out. Nearly all
have been seen around Zagreb campaigning, most already have
numerous billboards up and more go up everyday. Many have
begun airing short TV ads, and one even has a website devoted
entirely to his campaign platform. Candidates on these
independent lists run the gambit from former SDP vice
president Zdravko Tomac to the known arms dealer, Zvonko
Zubak, to an idealistic Croatian-American businessman, whose
billboards simply show him, his first name (Boris) in a giant
red square, and proclaim "Dobar Glas!" -- a vote for Boris is
a "Good Vote."



8. (SBU) The OSCE/ODIHR assessment of the campaign continues
to be positive. Outside of a few isolated egg-throwing
incidents, there has been no violence and voters are being
given the information they need to make an informed decision.
Media coverage has been balanced, and although coverage has
been skewed in favor of larger political parties, it is
evenly split between the SDP and HDZ.

Comment


--------------------------





9. (C) This campaign season, with its focus on image and
not substance seems to have left Croatia's voters and opinion
leaders unsatisfied. The HDZ's over-confidence seems to be
turning off voters -- an impression that Racan is encouraging
by consistently pointing to Sanader's "arrogance" during the
campaign. Despite their own lackluster efforts, one SDP
advantage has been the fear factor; when all is said and
done, some just tremble at the thought of Tudjman's old party
returning to power. They will vote SDP. However, this could
also swing the other way; with polls showing an advantage for
HDZ, voters could decide to stay home on Sunday, driven to
despair by HDZ's well-oiled campaign machine. The good news
is that all the punditry and speculation will come to an end
on election day, and all the political jockeying and
coalition building will get started.
FRANK


NNNN