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Race for Croatian Presidency Starts

January 6, 2000

ZAGREB, Croatia (AP) _ Nine candidates met the deadline to file for this month’s presidential election after the party that had run Croatia since its independence from Yugoslavia in 1991 was defeated in parliamentary elections.

The nine hopefuls submitted their petitions to the election commission by the cutoff midnight Wednesday. Voters will decide Jan. 24 on a successor to the country’s independence leader and first president, Franjo Tudjman, who died Dec. 10.

On Monday, a center-left opposition coalition handed Tudjman’s Croatian Democratic Union a decisive defeat in the first parliamentary elections since the late strongman’s death.

That is expected to give a major boost to the coalition’s presidential candidate, Drazen Budisa. Tudjman’s party, known by its Croatian initials HDZ, nominated the foreign minister, Mate Granic, as its presidential candidate.

Most opinion polls indicate Granic, a moderate, is the favorite. His chances, however, were expected to suffer after the parliamentary election drubbing. The party’s biggest loss was in the capital, Zagreb, where Granic was the HDZ’s leading candidate.

Granic was selected only hours before the filing deadline, hinting at infighting within the HDZ. Tudjman did not groom a successor, and the quarrel between hard-liners and moderates in the HDZ for control has only been exacerbated by the election debacle.

The coalition won _ by a 2-1 margin in some districts _ on promises to push reforms to prepare Croatia for integration into Western European institutions, such as the European Union and NATO.

Stipe Mesic, a former Croat representative under the old Yugoslav presidency, and a former justice minister, Zvonimir Separovic, also entered the race, as did sociologist Slaven Letica and businessman Ante Ledic.

Rounding out the field were former legislator Ante Prkacin and two hard-line conservatives, Ante Djapic and Tomislav Mercep. Campaigning officially kicks off Saturday.

The victorious coalition is rallying behind Budisa, a former dissident who served four years in jail for leading a student movement in 1971 that demanded greater autonomy for Croatia within Yugoslavia.

Update hourly