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Cablegate: Opposition Leader Resigns

VZCZCXRO2618
PP RUEHAG RUEHAST RUEHDA RUEHDBU RUEHDF RUEHFL RUEHIK RUEHKW RUEHLA
RUEHLN RUEHLZ RUEHPOD RUEHROV RUEHSR RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHVB #0353 1021323
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 121323Z APR 07
FM AMEMBASSY ZAGREB
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 7523
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS ZAGREB 000353

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR EUR/SCE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL HR POLITICAL PARTIES
SUBJECT: OPPOSITION LEADER RESIGNS


1. SUMMARY AND COMMENT: Former Prime Minister Ivica Racan
resigned April 11 as president of the Social Democratic Party
(SDP), Croatia's largest opposition party, due to health
reasons. After weeks of increasingly bleak cancer diagnoses,
his departure is not unexpected, but coming just seven months
before expected parliamentary elections with no heir
apparent, we can also expect serious party soul-searching in
the coming weeks as prominent SDPers ponder Racan's successor
both as party president and as candidate for prime minister.
Top candidates include SDP Deputy President Zeljka Antunovic,
party economic strategist Ljubo Jurcic, executive board
member Zoran Milanovic, and Zagreb Mayor Milan Bandic. END
SUMMARY AND COMMENT.

RACAN LEAVES SELECTION OF SUCCESSOR TO PARTY
--------------------------------------------

2. In his letter of resignation -- which he handed to his
closest associates in the Zagreb hospital where he is
receiving cancer treatment )- Racan asked the party to
continue without him, urging them to call an elective
convention and "look for new strength" there. Contrary to
expectations that he would perhaps nominate his successor,
Racan left the choice to the party, a move acclaimed in the
media as the most democratic option.

3. Hours after Racan's decision, Deputy President Antunovic
announced she would ask the SDP Main Committee to call an
extraordinary elective convention. The Committee is expected
to set the date for the convention at its next meeting on
April 21. SDP bylaws require that the new leader should be
elected within 90 days of the former party president's
resignation.

4. The highest-ranking SDP parliamentarian, Deputy Speaker
Mato Arlovic, told the Embassy the upcoming convention should
fall some time in June and will not seek to elect the entire
party leadership, but only the president. Antunovic's
position as Deputy President may also be put up for election,
too, if she runs for the presidency, which is to be expected.
Arlovic also explained that a "full" elective convention
would be held soon after the parliamentary elections expected
in November, as required by the party statute.

SEARCHING FOR A FRONT RUNNER
----------------------------

5. COMMENT: There have been no official candidacies for
Racan's successor, but four names are floating in the media
in terms of the party presidency and the SDP prime
ministerial candidate. Antunovic, who is leading the party
in this transitional period, is an obvious guess, though the
SDP's economic strategist Jurcic told the Ambassador April 12
that he doubted she had the necessary support within the
party. Many in the media think she can win the party's rank
and file but the question whether she would be an adequate
match for the SDP's chief rival, Prime Minister and HDZ
President Ivo Sanader.

6. Jurcic, who was minister of economy in the last half of
Racan's 2000-2003 government, has been unofficially promoted
as the party's candidate for Prime Minister, but only
recently applied for SDP membership. This perhaps made sense
while Racan was in effective control of the party: Party
President Racan giving political support to non-party
"technical" Prime Minister Jurcic. But now that Racan is out
of the formula, Jurcic's position is changing. Barely a
member, he cannot run for party presidency, and if some other
party heavyweight becomes president, they are likely to want
the premiership for themselves.

7. Racan used the word "new strength" in his letter. Some
observers interpret it as his suggestion that the party look
for a wholly new leader. Media immediately turned to SDP's
"young lion" Zoran Milanovic, member of the executive board
and widely considered the party's foreign affairs expert.
Milanovic declined to comment. However, his election as
president would indeed open the door wider for Jurcic's
candidacy as Prime Minister.

8. And finally, Zagreb Mayor Milan Bandic -- SDP's powerful
freelancer )- is a name often seen. This is perhaps more
because of his influence as Mayor of Zagreb than because the
party would want him for its president. END COMMENT.
BRADTKE

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