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Former Croat PM Sanader Returns To Politics

Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader

Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader

ZAGREB (Reuters) -- Former Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader said on January 3 his withdrawal from politics last year had been a mistake and announced a more active role in his ruling party, defeated in last week's presidential election.

Sanader quit unexpectedly as prime minister last July without giving an explanation. He was succeeded by his former deputy, Jadranka Kosor, who took over both the government and the ruling conservative HDZ party.

"I fully activate my role as the honorary president of the party. The reason is not the government's work, which I fully support, but the poor result of the party in the presidential election," state radio quoted Sanader as saying.

The HDZ's candidate came third in the first round of the presidential election a week ago, getting 12 percent of votes, the party's worst presidential poll result since the country became independent in 1991.

"To a large extent the result reflects a disorientation in leading the party. I feel partly responsible for that because of having withdrawn from politics altogether," Sanader said.

Many analysts said a division of votes among center-right candidates, including some HDZ renegades, and voter discontent over the economic situation, rising unemployment and a number of corruption scandals in state-controlled companies in recent months caused a drop in support for the HDZ's candidate.

Sanader did not specify if his political revival would be focused only on party affairs or if his ambitions went beyond that. However, he indicated he might take up his role as a parliamentary deputy after mid-January.

"I'm not thinking about taking over the party again," he said.

Independent political analyst Andjelko Milardovic said Sanader's comeback could deepen disagreements among party factions.

Croatia hopes to wrap up European Union accession talks this year and join in 2012. One of the requirements for that is a beefed-up fight against corruption, which Kosor has undertaken.

The second round of the presidential election on January 10 will pit the candidate of the opposition Social Democrats, Ivo Josipovic, against his former party colleague and Zagreb mayor, Milan Bandic, who runs as an independent.

Sanader urged the party leadership to give explicit support to one of the candidates. Kosor said earlier this week that HDZ would not support either of the two remaining candidates.