Croatian parliamentary election, 1990
|Results of the election in each of the electoral districts of Croatia for the Socio-Political Council
HDZ: blue; SDP: red; KNS: yellow; SDS: brown; SS-SSH: light red; GAS: green; Independent: gray
Parliamentary elections were held in the Socialist Republic of Croatia between 22 and 23 April 1990, with the second round of voting on 6–7 May. These were the first free and multiparty elections held in Croatia since 1938, and the first such elections for the Croatian Parliament since 1913. The vote encompassed 356 seats in the tri-cameral parliament, and the turnout in the first round ranged between 76.56% and 84.54% for various parliamentary chambers. In the second round, the turnout was somewhat lower, at 74.82%. The Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) won 205 seats, ousting the League of Communists of Croatia – Party of Democratic Reform (SKH-SDP) from power and ending 45 years of communist rule in Croatia. The new parliament convened for the first time on 30 May, elected Franjo Tuđman as President of the Croatian Presidency and soon renamed the office to that of the President of Croatia.
The election took place amid political crisis in the Balkans and the disintegration of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia, as well as growing ethnic tensions between Croats and Serbs. Though the SKH-SDP was widely expected to win the elections, the HDZ took advantage of the fact that questions of nationality and political reform had become the dominant issues of concern, and won by a wide margin. In the aftermath, SKH-SDP suffered massive loss of its membership, a sizeable portion of whom crossed the party lines and joined the HDZ. The electoral campaign deepened ethnic rivalries, and mutually provocative actions led to deep mistrust. Fear was further fermented by authorities in the neighbouring Socialist Republic of Serbia. In the months following the elections, the Croatian parliament amended the Constitution of Croatia to remove the term Socialist from the republic's official name, and to remove communist symbols from the flag and coat of arms of Croatia.
On 10 December 1989, the Central Committee of the League of Communists of Croatia (Croatian: Savez komunista Hrvatske — SKH) held an emergency meeting, one day before the party's 11th Congress. The body adopted a decision, by a majority of seven to six, that the next scheduled elections, in the spring of 1990, would be free multiparty elections. At the Congress, Ivica Račan, who supported the Central Committee's decision, narrowly won the position of SKH Chairman. Račan's victory gave support to liberal and reformist initiatives in the sphere of political administration. The Congress also supported the release of all political prisoners and the termination of all political trials. Spurred on by this change in SKH policy, the Croatian Parliament amended legislation to permit the establishment of political parties other than the SKH on 11 January 1990. Even though the decision by the SKH Central Committee of 10 December 1989 coincided with the signing of a public petition demanding free and multiparty elections, the SKH's move was not motivated by public opinion. Rather, it was based on their wish to achieve greater power and confidence through an election victory.
The SKH's plans for liberalization and reform extended further. It put forward, together with the League of Communists of Slovenia (Slovene: Zveza komunistov Slovenije — ZKS), a proposal to reform the SKJ into a loose confederation of political parties where the SKJ had no authority over associated parties, effectively eliminating the SKJ from political life, as well as the holding of multiparty elections. The proposal was put forward at the SKJ's 14th Extraordinary Congress on 22 January 1990. The Congress developed as a confrontation primarily between the ZKS and the Serbian delegation led by Slobodan Milošević, which was supported by the majority of delegates. All the ZKS's proposals were rejected and the Slovene delegates left in protest. In turn, SKH representatives demanded that the Congress be adjourned, but the Serbian and Montenegrin delegates preferred to continue the Congress without the Slovenes. In response, the SKH delegates also left the Congress, effectively marking the end of the SKJ.
On 15 February, the Croatian Parliament adopted amendments to the Constitution of the Socialist Republic of Croatia and passed a package of electoral laws to facilitate multiparty elections, but left the parliamentary system unchanged. The elections were scheduled for all 356 seats in the tricameral parliament consisting of the Socio-Political Council (80 seats), the Council of Associated Labour (160 seats) and the Council of Municipalities (116 seats). The electoral legislation established different constituencies for each parliamentary chamber, whose sizes varied greatly. Eighty electoral constituencies for the Socio-Political Council, encompassing multiple small municipalities or parts of large ones, varied in population size from below 32,000 to more than 80,000. Council of Municipalities constituencies corresponded to municipalities and varied in size even more, from less than 1,000 to more than 150,000. The Associated Labour Council members were to be elected in 160 constituencies whose size also varied greatly. Furthermore, there was no universal suffrage for the Associated Labour Council elections. It was limited to the employed and self-employed, as well as students.
The electoral legislation defined a two-round system of voting, where a candidate won a single-member constituency outright if one won more than 50% of votes, provided that the candidate received votes of at least one third of voters registered in the constituency. If no candidate received the required support, the second round was scheduled two weeks later. Then, all candidates who received at least 7% of votes in the first round could take part and the one who received the most votes, not necessarily an absolute majority, won the constituency. The two-round system was adopted despite the objection of opposition groups who demanded proportional representation. The first round of the elections was scheduled for 22–23 April, and the runoff for 6–7 May.
The first opposition groups in Croatia were set up as civic associations in 1989. The first among them was the Croatian Social Liberal Union (Croatian: Hrvatski socijalno-liberalni savez — HSLS), founded on 20 May 1989 and later renamed the Croatian Social Liberal Party. The Croatian Democratic Union (Croatian: Hrvatska demokratska zajednica — HDZ), which would later become the main opposition to the SKH, was founded on 17 June 1989, but officially registered only on 25 January 1990. The HDZ held its first convention on 24–25 February 1990, when Franjo Tuđman was elected its president. On 1 March 1990, the Coalition of People's Accord (Croatian: Koalicija narodnog sporazuma — KNS) was formed as an alliance of the Croatian Christian Democratic Party (Croatian: Hrvatska kršćanska demokratska stranka — HKDS), the Social Democratic Party of Croatia (Croatian: Socijaldemokratska stranka Hrvatske — SDSH), the Croatian Democratic Party (Croatian: Hrvatska demokratska stranka — HDS), the HSLS and five independent candidates: Savka Dabčević-Kučar, Ivan Supek, Miko Tripalo, Dragutin Haramija and Srećko Bijelić, once prominent figures of the 1971 "Croatian Spring".
On 17 February 1990, the Serb Democratic Party was founded, but failed to spread its organization significantly beyond Knin. Generally, organizational skills of the parties varied significantly, and only SKH candidates ran in every constituency. The HDZ, in contrast, did not run in 82 constituencies (25 for the Council of Municipalities and 57 for the Council of Associated Labour).
On 5 February, Croatian authorities formally registered the first seven political parties, including the SKH, HDZ, HSLS and several other members of the KNS. Ultimately, 18 political parties and a large number of independent candidates took part in the election process. A total of 1,609 candidates ran for seats in the parliament. On 20 March, the SKH decided to change its name to League of Communists of Croatia – Party of Democratic Reform (Croatian: Savez komunista Hrvatske – Stranka demokratskih promjena — SKH-SDP).
The election campaign took place from late March until 20 April, employing a mix of traditional devices and concepts inspired by election campaigns in the West. These largely involved the use of posters, flags bearing the Croatian chequy arms, graffiti, badges, stickers, support from entertainers, media, and the use of political rallies. Parties also relied on word of mouth, media manipulation and even paranoia. An overall lack of political experience led to a number of awkward, distasteful or otherwise poor slogans and posters. SKH-SDP posters were largely devoted to Račan and his messages: "We stopped single-mindedness, achieved democracy, Croatia freely elects" and "Račan's NO to single-mindedness". The HDZ opted for simple messages: "One knows – HDZ" and "HDZ – our name is our agenda", while the KNS used the likeness of a chessboard with the word Koalicija (Coalition) inscribed in its fields. In the initial stages of the campaign, the SDP-SKH was generally expected to win, and The Economist predicted that a coalition government would be formed.
Issues that dominated the overall campaign were nation and elections/democracy, with economic issues being three times less represented than either of these. A similar breakdown of campaign focus existed in the cases of the HDZ, SKH-SDP and KNS when analysed individually. The theme of restructuring Yugoslavia as a looser confederation and, should that fail, achieving independence, was reaffirmed in the campaign and accepted by Tuđman. Still, for the SKH-SDP, the elections were primarily meant to push for the reform of the Yugoslav federation, while the HDZ's priority lay with Croatian state-building.
In the run-up to the vote, only 15% of Croats indicated that they supported independence. 64% declared in favour of the proposed confederation. Moreover, only 37% stated that independence was a political priority. Parties gradually developed their ethnic profiles through the campaign. While the SDS appealed exclusively to Croatian Serb voters, surveys indicated that 98% of the HDZ's voters were Croats. The KNS applied moderately nationalistic rhetoric, but failed to seriously challenge the HDZ. Growing Serbian and Croatian Serb nationalism increasingly prompted Croat voters to support the HDZ. The SKH-SDP appealed to an ethnically mixed audience. Surveys indicated that 52% of its supporters were Croats, 28% of them were Serbs and 17% declared themselves as Yugoslavs. Among Croatian Serbs, only 23% supported the SDS, while 46% supported the SKH-SDP. Eventually, the HDZ emerged as the most credible anti-communist party in Croatia, rejecting the arbitrary rule and corruption that many Croatians associated with 45 years of communist domination, and affirming the country's national and religious identity.
Mainstream media in Croatia largely portrayed Tuđman and HDZ as right-wing nationalists, often as extremists who threatened Yugoslavia's continuation as a unified state. These comparisons were made following conflicting media statements by the party's leaders, especially at the HDZ general convention, which made it difficult to assess whether giving rise to Croatian nationalism was the party's intention or merely an electoral tactic. Ultimately, the Croatian public came to view the HDZ as the one party that could effectively "defend Croatia's national interests". The SKH-SDP was portrayed as a party of moderates in the Croatian media, and it steered clear from giving using the term "Croatian national interests" as a major talking point, fearing that it would lose the support of Croatian Serb voters in the process. The KNS was positioned in between the two, but its incoherent approach and greater emphasis on individual rights than national ones ultimately cost it votes.
Beginning in mid-1988, the Serbian mainstream media reported that Croatia was supporting Albanian separatism in the Serbian province of Kosovo and oppressing Croatian Serbs in order to pressure Serbia's leaders. The HDZ was heavily criticized in the Serbian media, and equated with the fascist Ustaše movement that controlled Croatia during World War II, while the possibility of an HDZ electoral victory was portrayed as being the revival of a Croatian fascist state. This line of rhetoric was particularly reinforced after Tuđman stated that the NDH was "not merely a quisling construct, but also an expression of the historical aspirations of the Croatian nation." The Serbian media consequently equated the prospect of an HDZ electoral victory with a repeat of the Ustaše-led massacres, deportations and forced conversions of Serbs that had occurred in Croatia during World War II. The SKH-SDP had been criticised by the Serbian media since 1989 as being ineffective in stopping the rise of Croatian nationalism, and the SDS was promoted as being the Croatian Serbs' only hope of preserving their national identity.
Petrova Gora rally
An event which had a significant impact upon ethnic homogenisation was a rally held at Petrova Gora on 4 March. It was not formally associated with any party standing in the election, rather it was organised by the municipalities of Vojnić and Vrginmost as well as the Yugoslav Independent Democratic Party. According to the then-mayor of Vrginmost, the two municipalities had organised the rally to show their support for brotherhood and unity—a Titoist concept whereby all of Yugoslavia's ethnic groups would live in harmony—instead of letting it become a Serb nationalist event. The rally, attended by tens of thousand Serbs, heard mainly pro-Yugoslav speeches about the threat posed by the HDZ and the unfavourable position of Serbs in Croatian society. It was condemned in advance by the SKH-SDP as being harmful to inter-ethnic relations and potentially capable of adding fuel to the fire of Croatian nationalism. The Croatian media linked rally to the anti-bureaucratic revolution that had occurred in neighbouring Serbia, and depicted it as a protest demanding the overthrow of the Croatian government. Conversely, the Serbian media equated the SKH-SDP with the HDZ, declaring the entire Croatian political spectrum nationalist and suggesting that Serbs should not partake in Croatia's electoral process.
Another event which led to substantial media coverage in Croatia and Serbia, and significantly influenced the general atmosphere surrounding the election campaign, was an HDZ rally in Benkovac, held on 18 March. The event drew several thousand HDZ supporters as well as several hundred Serbs who booed speakers and threw missiles at them. During Tuđman's address, a 62-year old Serbian man, Boško Čubrilović, approached the podium. When he was stopped by security, Čubrilović drew a gas pistol. He was thrown to the ground and the gun was confiscated and shown to the crowd and described as the gun meant to kill Tuđman. The rally disintegrated into a mass brawl only stopped by the police. Croatian media described the incident as an assassination attempt, but when Čubrilović was tried in late 1990 he was charged and convicted only of threatening the security staff. The incident worsened ethnic tensions and firmly positioned ethnic issues as an important theme of the election campaign. The Croatian media described the incident as an attempt to destabilise Croatia, while Serbian media alleged the events in Benkovac embodied the legitimate fears of Croatian Serbs brought on by the rise of Croatian nationalism as embodied by Tuđman and the HDZ.
Voting and results
In the first round of voting on 22–23 April, the turnout in the election for members of the Socio-Political Council reached 84.54% (2,875,061 total votes). HDZ won 41.76% of popular vote, followed by SKH-SDP and KNS at 23.59% and 10.99% respectively. Turnout in the election of members of the Council of Municipalities was 84.09% (3,433,548 total votes), with HDZ leading the poll with 43.91% of the votes cast, again followed by SKH-SDP and KNS at 25.28% and 9.37% of votes respectively. In the election of members of the Council of Associated Labour, turnout was only 76.53% (1,455,365 total votes). HDZ received 32.69% of votes cast, followed by SKH-SDP at 25.06%, independent candidates received 19.75% and KNS won 10.39% of the vote.
The first round of voting decided 137 out of 356 seats in the three chambers of the parliament. HDZ won 107 of them, while SKH-SDP received only 14 seats plus three more in coalition with the Socialist Alliance – Alliance of Socialists of Croatia (Croatian: Socijalistički savez – Savez socijalista Hrvatske — SS-SSH). The remaining 13 seats were distributed between independent candidates and four other parties. KNS received a single seat. In response to KNS's poor result, HDS left the coalition and continued to campaign on its own. After the results were announced, it became clear to SKH-SDP that it would lose the elections, and Račan stated that SKH-SDP would be a strong opposition party. Tuđman declared that with the HDZ in power there would be no personal revenge against the SKH-SDP members who had dismissed HDZ supporters from their jobs, but that those who opposed HDZ's views would be removed from public office.
The second round of voting was held on 6–7 May. The election for members of the Socio-Political Council were held in 51 previously undecided constituencies where the turnout was 74.82% (1,678,412 total votes). HDZ won 42.18% of popular vote, followed by SKH-SDP and KNS at 27.52% and 9.89% respectively. Turnout in the election of members of the Council of Municipalities held in previously was 74.58% (1,589,894 total votes), with HDZ leading the poll with 41.50% of the votes cast, again followed by SKH-SDP and KNS at 33.28% and 8.19% of votes respectively. In the election of members of the Council of Associated Labour in 103 constituencies undecided in in the first round of voting, turnout was 66.05% (847,288 total votes). SKH-SDP received 31.56% of votes cast, followed by HDZ at 28.32%, independent candidates received 13.26% and KNS won 10.95% of the vote.
The runoff decided 214 more seats in the parliament. In addition to the seats won in the first round, HDZ won 98, while SKH-SDP alone or in coalition with SS-SSH received 73 seats. Overall, in the two rounds of voting, 351 seats in the three chambers of the parliament were decided. HDZ won 205 seats on its own, and four through candidates supported jointly with Croatian Peasant Party (Croatian: Hrvatska seljačka stranka — HSS) (2) and HSLS (2), SKH-SDP won 73 seats alone, and 23 more were won by candidates supported by SKH-SDP and other political entities. Other parties winning seats in the parliament were KNS (11), HDS (10), SDS (5) SS-SSH (4), HSS (1), and SSOH (1). Association of independent entrepreneurs of Đurđevac won one seat, and 13 were won by independent candidates.
Generally, HDZ fared the best in both rounds of voting in areas where Croats represented the absolute majority. SKH-SDP, on the other hand proved victorious in ethnically mixed areas of Banovina, Kordun and Lika. It also fared well in Istria, and major cities, especially in Split, Rijeka, and Osijek—a result interpreted as a consequence of specific socio-economic properties of population there. Nonetheless, SKH-SDP suffered a substantial defeat in Zagreb.
|Party||First round||Second round||Overall results|
|Popular vote||Seats||Popular vote||Seats||Seats|
|SKH-SDP, SS-SSH, SSOH, SUBNOR||3.00%||4.69%||1.18%||2||-||-||2||3.47%||4.40%||3.59%||4||3||4||11||2||-||-||2|
|SKH-SDP, SS-SSH, SSOH||1||1||1||3|
|Key: DPV – Socio-Political Council, VO – Council of Municipalities, VUR – Council of Associated Labour|
The elections were the first free and multiparty elections held in Croatia since 11 December 1938 elections for the National Assembly of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, and the first such elections for the Croatian parliament since 16 December 1913. SKH-SDP graciously accepted HDZ's electoral victory, but the defeat led to substantial losses of the party membership numbers. Those who left SKH-SDP included more traditional communists, and Croatian Serb party members who followed the lead of Borislav Mikelić. Furthermore, 97,000 members of SKH-SDP switched their political allegiance and joined HDZ. By June, SKH-SDP membership plummeted from 298,000 to 46,000.
Following a plan designed to coincide with the change of regime in Croatia, as well as in the neighbouring Slovenia, the General Staff of the Yugoslav People's Army (Croatian: Jugoslavenska Narodna Armija – JNA) moved in to confiscate Croatia's and Slovenia's Territorial Defence (Croatian: Teritorijalna obrana – TO) weapons to minimize possibility of armed resistance from the two republics. The plan was executed on 14 May, before the newly elected parliament convened. Unlike Slovene authorities who salvaged nearly a third of the TO stockpile, Croatia was caught unprepared and the JNA successfully seized all Croatian TO weapons, effectively disarming the republic's security forces. An exception was made in cases of Serb-populated areas where local TO depots were left intact or even augmented by the JNA. The weapons would only be recaptured in late 1991 in the Battle of the Barracks, or returned in its aftermath by the JNA.
The newly elected Parliament convened on 30 May and elected Tuđman as President of Presidency of Croatia by 281 votes to 50, in a secret ballot. Žarko Domljan was elected the speaker of the parliament. and Stjepan Mesić was appointed the prime minister. SDS leader Jovan Rašković was offered a position in the government, but he declined the offer. In line with Tuđman's announcement following the first round of elections, the new government soon started to purge Serbs from public offices. This was primarily concerned with the police, where ethnic Serbs contributed approximately 75% of personnel in disproportion to 12% they comprised in the ethnic mix of Croatia. Tuđman sanctioned dismissing Serbs from the police and replacing them with Croats, leading to the reduction of proportion of Serbs in the police force to 28% by November 1992. Similar policy applied in judiciary, media and educational system, albeit expanded to encompass others who were not in agreement with HDZ.
In the aftermath of the elections, Tuđman was reluctant to proceed towards independence, realising Croatian vulnerability in any armed conflict. At the first session of the parliament, Tuđman addressed the members of the parliament and announced immediate tasks of the government consisting of adopting a new constitution, resolving the issue of Croatia's position in Yugoslavia, and integration into the European Community to ensure its independence and development.
On 29 June 1990, the parliament initiated work on amendments to the Constitution of Croatia designed to remove all its references to communism or socialism. The amendments were prepared and adopted on 25 July. The official name of the republic was changed to the Republic of Croatia, the President of the Presidency became the President of Croatia, and new coat of arms was adopted as a chequy of 25 red and white fields which replaced the red star on the flag of Croatia. The chequy used in the new arms and flag were interpreted by Serbs as provocative and reminiscent of NDH and Ustaše. While the chequy was used by the Nazi-puppet regime during the World War II, the symbol was also used in the arms of Croatia as a constituent part of Yugoslavia. Nonetheless, the symbol was perceived by Serbs as threatening.
Croatian Serb response
Serbian nationalism in Croatia was well developed long before HDZ took power, but legislation and especially nationalist rhetoric employed by HDZ greatly fed that nationalism. An association of Serb municipalities was already established in Knin ahead of the elections. Civilians armed by the authorities of Serbia patrolled the area as Croatian control waned in the region. Serbian government responded to HDZ electoral victory by stating that Croatian authorities intended only to harm Croatian Serbs, further inflaming already tense situation and supporting extremists among the SDS ranks. Provocative actions of extremists among HDZ further served SDS hardliners goals to instill fear among Serbs.
On 25 July, hours after the parliament adopted the amendments, Serb National Council (SNC) was set up at a political rally in Srb and the Declaration on sovereignty and autonomy of Serbian nation was adopted. On 1 August, the SNC met in Knin, where it elected Milan Babić as its president and announced a referendum on Serb autonomy in parts of Croatia where Serbs were in majority. It was scheduled for the period from 19 August to 2 September. The plan was declared illegal by Croatian authorities on 3 August.
On 17 August, Croatian authorities planned to restore their control over Knin and deployed police via Benkovac and Obrovac towards the town, with the Airbourne Unit of the special police ferried by helicopters from Zagreb as reinforcements. Knin police inspector, Milan Martić, deployed Knin police against the Croatian forces, and mobilised police reservists in the area to fell down trees to block road access to the town, earning the event the moniker of Log Revolution. The JNA deployed Yugoslav Air Force jets to intercept the helicopters and Croatian authorities backed down. In consequence, the SNC referendum went ahead and produced support for an "independent status" of Croatian Serbs, while Babić consolidated power over the region, which soon became the Serbian Autonomous Oblast Krajina (SAO Krajina). As SAO Krajina gradually consolidated or expanded areas under its control, armed clashes in Pakrac and Plitvice Lakes ensued by March and April 1991, sparking the Croatian War of Independence. By that time 28 out of 37 members of the Croatian parliament who were ethnic Serbs, including all five SDS representatives, had left the parliament.
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Scientific journal articles
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- Budimir, Davorka (January 2011). "Hrvatska politička elita na početku demokratske tranzicije" [The Croatian Political Elite at the Beginning of the Democratic Transition]. Anali Hrvatskog politološkog društva (in Croatian) (Zagreb, Croatia: Croatian Politological Society) 7 (1): 73–97. ISSN 1845-6707.
- Dunatov, Šime (December 2010). "Začetci višestranačja u Hrvatskoj 1989. godine" [The Origins of the Multi-Party System in Croatia in 1989]. Radovi Zavoda za povijesne znanosti HAZU u Zadru (in Croatian) (Zagreb, Croatia: Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts) (52): 381–397. ISSN 1330-0474.
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