ZAGREB, Croatia — A folksy former president of the old Yugoslavia and a onetime anti-Communist dissident will compete for Croatia's presidency in a runoff next month, election results showed today.
With ballot counting from Monday's voting completed, 65-year-old Stipe Mesic, the last president of the former Yugoslav federation before it began to break up in 1991, had received 41.64% of the total, according to the nation's electoral commission.
Drazen Budisa, 51, who was jailed in 1971 for his anti-Communist activism in the old Yugoslavia, was second with 28%.
Mate Granic, 52, Croatia's foreign minister and once the country's most popular politician, was in third place with 21.69%. Mesic and Budisa will compete in the final round Feb. 7.
Nine candidates campaigned to succeed Franjo Tudjman, the nationalist who led Croatia to independence from Yugoslavia in 1991. Tudjman died of cancer Dec. 10.
He left Croatia with a corrupt and declining economy. Fixing it "is going to be difficult--there's no doubt about that," said Vesna Pusic, a political scientist who is a member of parliament from Mesic's Croatian People's Party.
"Practically everybody is aware of the fact that we will have to wait for some positive results for some time," said Pusic. But Croatia's new leaders will have to be careful, she said, because the public's patience with arrogant politicians has run out.
The new center-left government in parliament, elected three weeks ago, is to be headed by a Budisa ally, former Communist Ivica Racan, as prime minister. His coalition and allied parties are just one seat short of the two-thirds majority required to rewrite the constitution.
Popular demand for change is so strong that no politician would dare stand in the way of plans to remove powers from the president and give more authority to the prime minister and parliament, most analysts agree.
The transition is likely to take from 10 months to a year. If Mesic goes on to victory, his relaxed style would make him the perfect person to lead the change from the Tudjman era, Pusic said.
Tudjman isolated Croatia by refusing to cooperate fully with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague as it investigated alleged Croatian war crimes in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Isolation and rampant corruption cost the country dearly in lost jobs and continuing economic recession. When Tudjman died, voters quickly turned against his ruling Croatian Democratic Union in the parliamentary elections.
Racan has promised to cooperate with the war crimes tribunal and make it easier for Serbian refugees to return to Croatia. The three main presidential candidates all made the same pledge.
Efforts to build a lasting peace in Bosnia are also expected to get a boost from the new Croatian leaders, who have said they will cut off aid to hard-line Bosnian Croat nationalists.
The exact amount of military and other aid that Tudjman's government sent to Bosnian Croats is not known, but its value could be as high as $600 million a year, Pusic said. Much of that could be cut almost immediately, providing a quick boost to Croatia's economy, while pensions and other funds paid to Bosnian Croats would have to be reduced over a longer period, she added.