Four candidates will be running for the top post in the main opposition Social Democratic Party (SDP), following an approval process Saturday (May 19th). SDP deputy chairperson and acting leader Zeljka Antunovic, senior officials Tonino Picula and Zoran Milanovic, and the head of the Zagreb branch, Milan Bandic were chosen from seven candidates.
The party has planned an extraordinary congress for June 2nd to elect a successor to Ivica Racan, who died of cancer in late April. Racan held the position for almost two decades.
As other political parties prepare for the November parliamentary elections, SDP must elect a successor. Its new president will have to hit the ground running.
The timing of the campaign is arguably ideal for SDP, as a recent survey by the International Republican Institute shows that for the first time in the four years, SDP has taken a lead. Analysts say that public supports can continue if the party takes the right actions.
The SDP has always presented an image of a coherent, united party. No significant factions have popped up, nor did the party share the destiny of many other Croatian political groups that were dissolved, reunited, or otherwise affected by their leaders’ personal ambitions. Next month’s party convention will be the ideal place to show that, even without Racan, SDP remains unified.
The question arises though — will the new party leader also be a candidate for prime minister, or will two different people fill these two functions. Both Antunovic and Picula enjoy strong party support, but not public support.
Former Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs Milanovic and financial expert Jurcic both lack the party support needed to become SDP president, but will run for the position to compete for the post of prime minister.
The dark horse of the SDP convention might be controversial Zagreb Mayor Bandic. He has implemented many successful ideas that have served to make Zagreb a modern capital, but he is a genuine populist, which makes him unpopular with members of the SDP intellectual elite.
The new president of SDP must get a majority of votes at the convention. If nobody gets the necessary majority, even in a run off, a new convention must take place within two weeks — without the participation of the previous candidates.