- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 23, 2002

Croatia's main conservative opposition party has become embroiled in bitter factional infighting, leading some critics and analysts to charge that its leader is behaving undemocratically.
The Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), ahead in opinion polls and widely expected to win national elections that could be called as early as this fall, has been engulfed in recent months in a power struggle between its leader, Ivo Sanader, and his archrival, Ivic Pasalic.
Mr. Sanader, 49, narrowly defeated Mr. Pasalic in the HDZ's leadership race in late April.
The 41-year-old Mr. Pasalic, a former adviser to the late President Franjo Tudjman, who led Croatia's 1991 drive for independence, has been accused in the media of overseeing many of the shady privatization deals during the 1990s when the HDZ ruled Croatia. Following Mr. Tudjman's death in 1999, the HDZ lost power to a center-left coalition in early 2000 elections led by Prime Minister Ivica Racan's Social Democratic Party.
In a meeting last week of the HDZ's central committee, a majority loyal to Mr. Sanader voted behind closed doors to strip Mr. Pasalic of his position as president of the HDZ Charitable Foundation, the party's educational organ.
Mr. Pasalic has charged that Mr. Sanader's supporters used illegal means to strip him of his position in the foundation by deliberately preventing pro-Pasalic members from voting.
"Sanader wanted to replace me for political reasons. He wants to remove all people in the party from positions of influence who did not support him during the leadership convention," Mr. Pasalic said. "He wants to have a majority in the central committee by force. He is behaving in an unconstitutional and illegal manner," he said.
Mr. Pasalic also said that Mr. Sanader's attempts to marginalize him and his supporters in the party reveals that the HDZ chief is not committed to democracy and pluralism.
"He is behaving in an anti-democratic fashion. Sanader has shown that he is seeking to implement a communist-style purge," Mr. Pasalic said.
Since becoming HDZ leader in early 2000, Mr. Sanader has publicly committed himself to revamping it into a Western-style conservative party, but denies his actions are undemocratic or illegal.
"These charges by Pasalic are bogus," Mr. Sanader said and urged Mr. Pasalic "to stop these allegations and serve the party in the upcoming elections."
He also said that his campaign to marginalize Mr. Pasalic's role in the party is part of a larger strategy to forge a new image of the HDZ one that is radically different from the rampant corruption associated with the Tudjman years.
"Ninety percent of the party and the overwhelming majority of the Croatian public are behind this. Pasalic symbolizes all the negative aspects of the HDZ in the past. It's about the perception in the public and the good of the party," Mr. Sanader said.
But some political analysts have said that the power struggle within the HDZ has damaged Mr. Sanader's credibility as a democratic leader.
"Sanader is using doubtful democratic means to get rid of Pasalic's people in the party. He doesn't have any choice in order to get a majority of support within his own party. But this is risky for himself," said Slaven Letica, a professor of economics at Zagreb University. Mr. Sanader "has to prove himself as a true democrat in leading his own party and the country," Mr. Letica said.

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