Croatia - Mesic wins second term

Mon 17 Jan 2005

Croatia overwhelmingly gave pro-Western President Stjepan Mesic a second term in the election run-off on the 16th of January. This way the Croatians bolster efforts to bring the former Yugoslav republic to European Union membership.

The 70-year-old liberal, credited with helping Croatia out of international isolation in his first mandate, won 66 percent of Sunday's vote. Deputy Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor, a close ally of ruling conservative Prime Minister Ivo Sanader, took 34 percent.

"Our main task now is to pass EU-compatible legislation and reach European standards, but that cannot be done without revitalizing the economy and boosting employment," Mesic stated. "We must draft a national development strategy so our EU negotiators are able to defend our national interests."

Stjepan Mesic was the surprise winner of a landmark ballot in 2000, replacing the late Franjo Tudjman who led Croatia to independence but whose nationalist policies alienated the West. His relaxed attitude and gift for witty repartee quickly cemented his popularity, although many nationalists labeled him a traitor for his drive to repair ties with former foes after the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s. Western diplomats see Mesic as a useful counterweight to Sanader's ruling center-right Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) and praise him for denouncing war crimes committed by Croats during conflicts that tore apart former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. Croatia is due to start EU accession talks on March 17 if it cooperates fully with the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague, particularly in tracking down fugitive general Ante Gotovina.