Ivica Racan, one of the strongest potential challengers to Prime Minister Ivo Sanader, has dropped out of politics due to a cancer diagnosis.
By Natasa Radic for Southeast European Times in Zagreb – 05/02/07
Former Croatian Prime Minister Ivica Racan announced last week that he would temporarily retire from politics due to a recent cancer diagnosis. Doctors at Munich General Hospital have diagnosed an atypical tumour in his right shoulder area, requiring surgery. The operation is scheduled for Thursday (February 8th).
Racan said that the surgery is very complicated, and that he hopes for the best. He also said his Social Democrat Party (SDP) will continue with election preparations, even though he probably won't lead them in the campaign.
SDP deputy head Zeljka Antunovic will take Racan's place until he decides if he will return to politics or retire completely. "This decision will be made after I see the outcome of the surgery," Racan told reporters. He said he has received many letters and messages of support from his fellow politicians, party members, citizens and Croatian officials.
Racan is a prominent political figure. In the late 1980s, he led the Croatian branch of the communist party, and in 1989 became the first member of the Central Committee of the League of Communists of Croatia to make a public statement congratulating Catholics on Christmas. Subsequently, he organised the country's first free elections.
As prime minister, Racan immediately changed the political climate in the country, bringing Croatia out of international isolation. He and his coalition received significant international attention at the time and he became a symbol of the new, reformist Croatia.
However, he had serious problems with his coalition partners, and Croats voted him out of power in 2003.
He has held the post of SDP president since the party was formed. However, even before his diagnosis, he had said he would retire from that post in order to make way for a younger generation of Social Democrats.
Croatia is facing parliamentary elections at the end of the year. Racan had been considered the biggest threat to Prime Minister Ivo Sanader and his conservative HDZ. Recent polls have shown that SDP firmly holds second position and threatens HDZ's top spot.
With Racan out of the political arena for now, the SDP may have to work to keep that level of support and win votes.