ZAGREB, Jan 11 – Opposition Social Democrat Ivo Josipovic, elected Croatia\’s president on Sunday, capitalised on his image as a soft-spoken intellectual and a squeaky-clean political reputation.
Voters, seemingly fed up with the graft scandals that had engulfed Croatian politics over the past months, turned to Josipovic who had promised to usher in "the return of morals into politics".
Official results showed Josipovic won over 60 percent of the votes in Sunday\’s run-off election leaving his rival, populist Zagreb Mayor Milan Bandic, far behind.
The 52-year-old legal expert and classical music composer campaigned under the slogan "Justice for Croatia", insisting on the rule of law and the need to fight corruption.
"Every citizen of this country tonight is a winner since I deeply believe that we all want a better, a more just Croatia," Josipovic told his cheering supporters after the official results were released.
"We all want to live in a country where work gets paid and crime is punished, the country of social security and justice."
Overcoming corruption is a key challenge if Croatia — which joined NATO last year — wants to succeed in its bid to join the European Union by 2012 and put the trauma of the Balkan wars of the 1990s further behind it.
Early in the presidential race observers predicted that Josipovic would have trouble connecting with voter, but the bookish intellectual made the most of his boring image by presenting himself as a Croatian Mister Clean, untarnished by political scandal.
In debates the grey-haired professor remained soft-spoken, never letting himself be drawn out. Smiling benignly from behind his glasses he approached his rivals as though he was addressing his students in a law lecture.
Croatians, bombarded by a series of high-level corruption affairs, were longing for a president who "brings a sense of civil virtue to the table, even if it is sterile," one analyst commented.
Josipovic was born and educated in Zagreb, where he graduated with law and music degrees. He specialised in criminal and international criminal law, lecturing at Zagreb University\’s law faculty.
In 1980 Josipovic joined the League of Croatia\’s Communists (SKH), which reformed itself ahead of the 1991-1995 war that followed Zagreb\’s declaration of independence from Yugoslavia. The former communist party changed its name to the Social Democrats and at the time Josipovic wrote its first statutes.
Josipovic left politics in 1994 but returned to parliament in 2003. During his nine-year hiatus he worked as an international law expert on issues concerning Zagreb\’s cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague, which is prosecuting war crimes from the 1990s Balkan conflicts.
He was also involved in Croatia\’s genocide complaint against Serbia for its role in Croatia\’s 1991-1995 war, which left some 20,000 people dead, before the International Court of Justice, the UN\’s highest court.
Josipovic will be Croatia\’s third president since the country\’s independence, succeeding the popular centrist Stipe Mesic, who steps down on February 18 after serving his maximum two five-year terms in office and guiding the country to a parliamentary democracy after the authoritarian rule of independence leader Franjo Tudjman.
Josipovic is married and has an 18-year-old daughter. In his free time he composes classical music pieces for multiple instruments, some of which have won international awards.