- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 23, 2003

ZAGREB, Croatia (AP) — Nationalists who led Croatia to independence in 1991 appeared poised to return to power yesterday after partial results from parliamentary elections showed them ousting the current pro-Western government.

Returns released by the state-run electoral commission with about 10 percent of votes counted gave 76 seats to the bloc of the late President Franjo Tudjman. Parties aligned with Prime Minister Ivica Racan, struggling with voter disappointment over slow improvement in living standards, won only 63 seats.

Nationalist Ivo Sanader, the new leader of the Croatian Democratic Union, known as HDZ, declared his party’s showing “a brilliant victory.”

“It is an order from Croatian voters that HDZ should get a mandate to form the new government,” he said. “We are the only clear winners of these elections.”

Mr. Racan acknowledged that if the results hold, he stands no chance of forming a new government. “In that case, I’d be able to congratulate those who would probably be able to form the government and wish them all the luck,” he said.

The HDZ was capitalizing on voter frustration with Mr. Racan’s government, which has failed to deliver on promises of prosperity.

The next government could fulfill Croats’ decade-long desire to bring the former Yugoslav republic of 4.5 million people into the European Union — perhaps as early as 2007 — if it continues the democratic and economic reforms launched over the past few years.

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