Constitutional crisis continues
The tug of war between President Stipe Mesić and Prime Minister Ivica Račan continued this week, with local media feeling the Prime Minister had emerged the winner.
Last week, the nation's press suggested Mesić might well win concessions on his list of objections to the ruling Group of Six's constitutional amendments (see last week's news review review for more details). Now, the possibility seems more remote than ever as the increasingly frustrated head of state rails against the government's unwillingness to take him seriously.
The first sign that Mesić was losing his focus—and that the press corps was losing its patience—came last weekend.
Hard on the heels of claims by influential Novi List legal affairs columnist Gordana Grbić that Mesić was losing focus was a Jutarnji list story claiming that the People's Party (HNS), Mesić's own party before he ended his partisan affiliation upon becoming president, had developed misgivings about the President's constitutional complaints. Only a few days before, the Six's so-called Poreč Group—the HNS, Liberal Party (LS) and Istrian Democratic Congress (IDS)—were said to have been willing to back some of the President's objections to the package as it stood. Then Mesić released his 20-point letter.
At a press conference last Friday in Zagreb, Radimir Čačić, the president of the HNS's Central Committee and Minister of Public Works and Reconstruction, said that both Mesić and the government had stepped away from the initial proposal put together by a team led by Minister of Justice Stjepan Ivanišević. Mesić, he indicated, should expect little sympathy from the HNS.
Prime Minister Račan, meanwhile, was gaining ground—particularly after the Sabor's Constitutional Committee met on Tuesday. His headaches continued throughout the week, but the depth of his skills as a parliamentary politician was quietly on display as the amendments were shepherded through the committee.
In short order, the committee cast aside the President's Office's claims that Račan had agreed to postpone the Sabor's debate of the package (it will come up for a vote on 10 November, as planned); met with and defused the President's constitutional expert group ("no sensational changes should be expected," the chair of the president's group later said); took a giant step toward securing the Croatian Party of Right (HSP)'s endorsement of the package by adopting its call for a referendum clause; and rejected the majority of Mesić's demands—all in only one session.
Meddling with BiH
After mounting pressure from the domestic right and BiH Croats alike, Prime Minister Račan's government delivered a note of protest to the OSCE and Office of the High Representative in BiH (OHR) demanding an explanation of the recent changes to the BiH electoral laws.
The move came despite President Mesić's urgings that the government not intervene and instead encourage BiH Croats to seek redress of their complaints through Bosnia's institutional structures.
On Monday, Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) caucus leader Vladmir Šeks claimed the nation's top leadership had failed BiH Croats and demanded that Speaker of the Sabor Zlatko Tomčić place a debate on the implementation of the Dayton Accord's on parliament's agenda.
At the same press conference, HDZ President Ivo Sanader echoed the BiH HDZ (HDZ/BH)'s claims that the OSCE Temporary Electoral Commission (PIP) had ensured that BiH Croats' representatives at the House of Nations would be elected by BH Serbs and Bosniaks.
Within 36 hours, First Deputy Prime Minister Goran Granić told the Sabor's upper house (the House of Counties) that the government was submitting an official complaint to the OSCE over the changes.
"We will submit the government's note in Vienna and Sarajevo, expressing concern over the new rules that might put the equality and constitutiveness of all nations in BH in question," Granić said, adding, "The government will persist [in its position] that both the [BiH] constitution and the Dayton agreement are to be respected."
Although Granić—and later Foreign Minister Tonino Picula, speaking to the Sabor's Foreign Affairs Committee—used the word "note" (implying a diplomatic note of protest), they were backtracking at week's end by claiming the document had merely been a "gentle protest" design to open a "quiet dialogue."
They were unable to forestall a firestorm of controversy in BiH, and were met with uncomfortable kudos from the right at home.
OSCE BiH Head of Mission Robert Berry said the electoral regulations were not a violation of the BiH constitution or the Dayton Accords.
"The decision does not jeopardize the representation of Croats in the House of Nations. We do not think the HDZ/BH has the excusive right to represent the interests of Croats," he said.
OSCE BH Spokesman Luke Zahner explained that the OSCE's decision was meant to break the HDZ/BH's monopoly. "No party has the exclusive right to represent a nation. Croats will continue to have thirty representatives in the House of Nations, but they will be elected in a more democratic way," he said.
BiH's New Croat Initiative (NHI) party president, Krešimir Zubak, said, "I... think [the Croatian government's] statement was ill-considered. I would like to use this opportunity to say that the temporary election commission's decision does not jeopardize the equality of the Croatian people in BH."
In a similar vein, the BH Peasants' Party (HSS/BH)'s Ilija Šimić said the note was both ill-timed and ill-advised. "I think this is a kind of unnecessary interventionism BiH's political situation. [It came] at the worst possible moment, when the elections are rapidly approaching. This has actually helped the HDZ, deliberately or unwittingly," he claimed.
Both the NHI and the HSS/BH have refused to take part in the HDZ/BH's conference to discuss a possible referendum on the role of BiH Croats in Bosnia's institutions.
In Zagreb, opposition parties expressed support for the Government's note, saying BH Croats' interests are endangered by the new electoral law.
"I only wonder why it has taken them two weeks," said Anto Kovačević of the Croatian Christian Democratic Union (HKDU), adding that he suspects the government's support for BiH Croats was more opportunist than genuine.
The HDZ said it approved of the government's move, but was not backing down from its demand for a debate in the Sabor about the implementation of the Dayton Accords—sentiments echoed by the Croatian Party of Rights (HSP).
While not directly confronting the Račan government with his disapproval, President Mesić said he thinks Croatia has more pressing international issues with which to concern itself, noting the upcoming 24 November Zagreb Summit and normalization of relations with Yugoslavia. Mesić reiterated that BiH Croats should turn to BiH structures, not Zagreb, to redress their complaints.
Patrick FitzPatrick, 29 October 2000
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