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A son of well-to-do farmers' family near Sinj, he joined Tito's Partisans as a teenager. Later he joined Communist Party of Yugoslavia and rose through its ranks, getting many important positions in Yugoslavia.
Gradually, Tripalo rose to enough prominence to join second generation of top Communist officials in Yugoslavia. They were, under tacit blessing of Josip Broz Tito, supposed to introduce various economic and political reforms in late 1960s. Tripalo, together with Savka Dabčević-Kučar, became one of the leaders of Croatian Communist Party.
In 1970 Tripalo and Savka introduced new Party platform that demanded more autonomy for Croatia within Yugoslavia. The platform was promoted through mass ralies, soon becoming a popular movement, later called Croatian Spring. Savka and Tripalo became the most popular politicians in Croatia at the time.
The new policy was opposed by more conservative elements of the Party and Yugoslav People's Army and also created a lot of ethnic tensions in parts of Croatia with large Serb minority. That, and Croatian students making even more radical demands, finally led Tito to openly turn against Savka and Tripalo at Karađorđevo Party conference in December 1971. Savka and Tripalo were quickly removed from their Party position and, ultimately, from public life.
In 1989, with an arrival of multi-party democracy in Croatia, Tripalo re-emerged in Croatian politics as one of the top opposition figures. He published a book called Croatian Spring, claiming that the movement, previously known as Maspok, was inspired by Prague Spring and extinguished in the same manner.
Tripalo and Savka believed themselves to be the obvious leaders of Croatian opposition, although they refused to form their own party. Instead, they initiated creation of Coalition of People's Accord - a broad alliance of mostly moderate nationalist parties - whom they led during 1990 parliamentary elections. Their hopes were soon extinguished due to electoral law favouring only two strongest parties, one of them being Croatian Communist Party, recently rebranded into Social Democratic Party of Croatia. The other, more likely to exploit popular disastifaction with Communism and Yugoslavia, as well as fear of emerging Serb nationalism, was Croatian Democratic Union under Franjo Tuđman. Coalition finished third and won only a handful of seats.
Few months later, in Autumn of 1990, Tripalo and Savka finally initiated creation of their own party that would later become Croatian People's Party.
In next few years, Tripalo, always in the shadow of more charismatic and more popular Savka, was begin to distance himself from his long-term political partner. This became apparent after 1992 and Savka's failure at parliamentary and presidential elections, events that coincided with the rise of hardline nationalist faction within HDZ. Tripalo, unlike Savka, was increasingly troubled by the prospect of Croatia shifting to the far and even more by the prospects of HNS not being opposed to certain tendencies associated with far right. In 1994 he left HNS and joined newly formed left-wing party called Social Democratic Action of Croatia (ASH). The party failed to make much of an impact on 1995 parliamentary elections.
Tripalo, faced with deteriorating health, died few years later.