Published in Nacional number 657, 2008-06-16

Autor: Eduard Šoštarić, Robert Bajruši

Plan to destroy HNS

Sanader to remove Vesna Pusic from the head of the Alliance for the European Union

After the successful operation to bring down Varazdin County prefect Radimir Cacic, the premier has decided to break off all ties to HNS in order to politically neutralize the SDP partner

Vesna Pusic could soon lose the position that brought her back political influence; HDZ believes that it will be Cacic that will return to the parliamentVesna Pusic could soon lose the position that brought her back political influence; HDZ believes that it will be Cacic that will return to the parliament Ivo Sanader intends to break off all ties with the Croatian People’s Party (HNS) and its leaders. At last week’s meeting of Sanader’s cabinet, Sanader showed his outrage over recent criticisms coming from HNS and threatened to react without any hesitation if such a situation were to occur again. The first victim could be Vesna Pusic; the premier explicitly stated that he is prepared to remove her as head of the National Committee for Monitoring Accession Negotiations with the EU, to which she was appointed only three months ago thanks to support from the HDZ MPs. This information came to Nacional through an official from the ruling party who is very well acquainted with the situation, and who confirmed that this was a grave warning to the HNS leaders.

This official explained that two recent situations have caused Sanader’s blood to boil. Not two weeks ago, Radimir Cacic attacked the conduct of the executive government with regards to the economic crisis with the graphic comment that “HDZ pooped its pants”. The government failed to give a direct response, but instead sent an indirect one in the initiative to remove Cacic from his post as Varazdin County prefect. Already this spring, the political grapevine was already aware of the information that Cacic might be pulled from his post, but the campaign only began after he made this comment. Sanader was no longer willing to take such verbal abuse and initiated this retaliation against Cacic. He was certainly helped by the fact that two council members left the HNS branch of Varazdin, such that the county government crisis arose without too much assistance from the state government. If all goes according to plan, Antun Palaric, head of the state administration, will not have to fabricate a reason for replacing the 2005 election winner, as he has done in other cases.

PREMIER SANADER wants to destroy the only remaining potential partner to SDPPREMIER SANADER wants to destroy the only remaining potential partner to SDP

HDZ believes that Cacic’s return to the parliament will be his political euthanasia. He was never very interested in the long and, frequently, pointless discussions held there, particularly since he organized numerous projects and was attractive to the media as the Varazdin County prefect.

And while replacing Cacic is virtually a done deal, the situation with Vesna Pusic is much more complex. At the cabinet meeting, Sanader gave two reasons why he is considering pulling Pusic from her post. Nacional’s source claims that he had never seen Sanader as angry as he was while talking about Pusic. Our source summed up Sanader’s views.

First, Pusic recently commented that the government was tolerating and silently encouraging Ustasha rhetoric. She gave this comment one day after the concert by controversial musician Marko Perkovic Thompson on Zagreb’s main square, when a handful of those in the public were wearing Ustasha symbols, saying that again no one was arrested. In an emotional address, Sanader told his associates that such an accusation was pointless, as he was leading the battle against right-wing radicals in Croatia, explicitly mentioning Ivic Pasalic.

VESNA PUSIC personally proposed that Bianca Matkovic should be the one to oversee the work of the ministries in the negotiations with BrusselsVESNA PUSIC personally proposed that Bianca Matkovic should be the one to oversee the work of the ministries in the negotiations with Brussels

Secondly, it seems that Sanader is quite bothered by the enthusiasm with which Vesna Pusic is carrying out her duties as the head of the Alliance for Europe. This is purely an eclectic conflict of character, as Sanader believes that only he is predestined to create and implement policy regarding the EU, which does not fit in with the exceptionally active style of Vesna Pusic. While Ivica Racan carrying out these duties more as a formality, only organising the occasional meeting at which no strategic decisions were made, Vesna Pusic has obviously decided to take a more active approach. She is carefully monitoring the negotiations, and she initiated the formation of a special diplomatic team headed up by Bianca Markovic aimed at resolving all bureaucratic barriers in the ministries. Abroad, she is meeting with foreign politicians and discussing the nuances and tempo of the negotiations. “She is acting like a self-proclaimed foreign minister,” said Sanader, further stressing the lecture she is to give in Brussels to the liberal representatives of the European Parliament.

Considering that Gordan Jandrokovic does exclusively as told by the premier, and take no initiatives on his own, it is clear that Pusic’s conduct is arousing quite some discontent within the top government ranks. Particularly since she was appointed to the leading position in the National Committee only to prevent Zoran Milanovic from taking it. The Alliance for Europe was established based on an agreement between Sanader and Racan, with the leading position belong to the opposition party, for the purpose of achieving a super-party consensus on the EU negotiations. Considering the exceptionally slow pace of the negotiations to date, the National Committee and its members have not had too much work on their hands. A handful of consultations on the most difficult negotiation chapters, a meeting with a few European parliamentarians, and was it.

THE NEW PREFECT will be president of the HSS county branch, Zvonimir SabatiTHE NEW PREFECT will be president of the HSS county branch, Zvonimir Sabati

Vesna Pusic, though, had no intentions of working that way, and immediately began looking for the reason as to why the talks had faltered. When she realized that this was, to a large extent, due to the poor functioning of the state administration, she suggested that Sanader appoint Bianca Matkovic to speed things up. In private conversations, Pusic is known to say that she is a real perfectionist who must go over every detail. In this case, this certainly did speed up the negotiations process between Zagreb and Brussels. However, even then Sanader realized that she would only do her job only superficially, but would aim to initiate things and even make strategic decisions.

This is certainly understandable, given that such a conscientious and experienced politician such as Vesna Pusic in the last election stated her ambitions to become foreign minister. But when HNS fared poorly in the elections, and HDZ took power, her chances disappeared. There is a certainly amount of dissatisfaction with HNS as to how she ran the party. In order to avoid a split, the party leadership decided that she should step down as president and hand that post over to Radimir Cacic.

RADIMIR CACIC knew what the opposition was preparing for he, so he tried to form an alliance with SDPRADIMIR CACIC knew what the opposition was preparing for he, so he tried to form an alliance with SDP

This was more than just a usual change in leadership, as Cacic began to immediately distance himself from SDP and open the door to cooperation with HDZ. In several public appearances, he stated that two consecutive losses in the parliamentary elections where HNS had positioned itself in the left-centre proved that it was time for a change. Cacic even said that the HNS MPs would support the government in the event that the small coalition parties tried to hold up the government. HDZ got the message and, in a show of goodwill, appoint Pusic as head of the National Committee for Monitoring the EU Negotiations. This was a difficult decision for the majority of the ruling party, given the fact that for many years, Vesna Pusic has had the reputation of a harsh critic of HDZ, and her comment that HDZ attempted to divide Bosnia-Herzegovina was viewed by some as an act of treason.

But the truce between HNS and HDZ obviously couldn’t last long. Cacic took advantage of every possible opportunity to attack the government’s economic policy, with the culmination in his comment about HDZ “pooping” its pants. Meanwhile, Cacic began to re-intensify contacts with Milanovic. Last month, the two men held three working meetings to agree on how to go about a joint ballot at the 2009 local elections. Both have significantly regresses – Cacic is aware that SDP is much stronger and will probably seek leading positions in a smaller number of towns, such as Osijek, Varazdin or in Medjimurje, while Milanovic has rekindled cooperation with HNS based on the argument that under his leadership, the Social Democrats have retained their capacity for coalitions.

HSS, HDZ and HSLS have signed a part, giving Sanader loyal partnersHSS, HDZ and HSLS have signed a part, giving Sanader loyal partners The next phase will be to try to include the Croatian Pensioner’s Party, even though Milanovic still has his eye on HSS. The SDP president believes that there is still a chance for cooperation with Josip Friscic’s party, at least in central and northwestern Croatia. The result of this renewed cooperation in the left centre is HNS’s new criticisms of Sanader. After months of wandering between the ruling party and the opposition, Cacic has in the end decided to remain true to the Social Democrats. The exception is the City of Zagreb, as Nacional wrote about in April, where Cacic has ambitions to become mayor. Regardless of how little Milanovic like’s the way Bandic does his job, SDP can in no way afford to lose power in the capital city, regardless of who is at the helm.

Silvano Hrelja the key figure in bringing down Cacic Last week’s removal of the President of the Varazdin County Assemby Vladimir Stolnik began the political disassembly of the county government, complete with Prefect Radimir Cacic at the helm. With the decision of two HNS councilmen to switch to HSS, they obtained the necessary conditions to bring down the current county prefect, which then took place at the end of last week at the County Assembly. Nacional has learned that another two HNS councilmen are planning to join the political opponents. The new county prefect is expected to be Zvonimir Sabati of HSS. The political balance of power in terms of the number of councilmen in the Varazdin Assembly suggested that such a situation might occur, because of the total 41 seats, the coalition HNS-HSLS-HSU had a majority with only 24 seats, while the remaining parties together had 17. The key moment to remove Radimir Cacic occurred during the recent parliamentary elections.

Immediately after HDZ signed the agreement with the HSS-HSLS coalition, Cacic realized that he could expect an attempt to remove him, as his main coalition partner at the county level, HSLS, was now working with HDZ and HSS at the state level. These two parties are Cacic’s main political opponents in Varazdin County. Sources close to the political parties in Varazdin learned that the HDZ and HSS presidents decided to bring down Cacic as soon as they formed the state government, with the help of HSLS. However, HSLS county leader Ivan Cehok refused, believing that turning his back on Cacic would be disastrous for his party due to Cacic’s popularity in the county.
At the upcoming local elections, the voters in the county would have likely punished HSLS for such dirty political trading. This would have then negatively impacted the elections for Varazdin mayor, and so Cehok refused to take such a direct move. However, an agreement was reached that HSLS would leave county coalition if HDZ and HSS could get some of the SDP or HNS councilmembers to switch ranks.

Cacic was aware of such a scenario and could no longer trust HSLS. After the parliamentary elections, he began negotiations with SDP and the Pensioner’s Party (HSU) in order to keep power, and all he needed was their councilmembers in order to break off the coalition with HSLS. And he was very close to achieving this three months ago. He received the support of all the SDP councilmembers and one HSU councilmember. Aware of their possible loss of position, the HSLS leaders contacted HSU president Silvano Hrelja, who prevented a second councilmember from agreeing to Cacic’s plan. After that it was clear that there would soon be an attempt to bring him down, which happened after two HNS councilmembers from Varazdinske Toplice switched parties.

This scenario is also certainly the result of the long-standing silent conflict between Cacic and Varazdin mayor Ivan Cehok. Those well acquainted with the political situation in Varazdin say that there is no longer room for both men, due to their constant arguing about who is responsible for projects in the city and the county. There is a constant animocity between the two men about the media attention given to one or the other. HNS claims that this removal is absurd, as this county government sent a message to other counties about how to turn underaverage economic results into a county with the fastest growing employment rat, the highest export rate, highest export sufficit and highest resident satisfaction, in just a few years time.

The HNSers claim that Varazdin County created and proved a series of models, including public-private partnerships, free transport for secondary school students and financing for all university students. However, HSS leader in Varazdin County claims that Cacic was arrogant, and that they had been warning him about his poor work for the past two years, particularly his poorly implemented public-private partnership models, in which the private partner covers only 40% of the cost of the project, and the County covers 60%.

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