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Cablegate: Social Democrats Line Up to Lead Party Into November

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RR RUEHAG RUEHAST RUEHDA RUEHDBU RUEHDF RUEHFL RUEHIK RUEHKW RUEHLA
RUEHLN RUEHLZ RUEHPOD RUEHROV RUEHSR RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHVB #0512 1451026
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 251026Z MAY 07
FM AMEMBASSY ZAGREB
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 7734
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS ZAGREB 000512

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL HR POLITICAL PARTIES
SUBJECT: SOCIAL DEMOCRATS LINE UP TO LEAD PARTY INTO NOVEMBER
ELECTIONS


SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED - PLEASE HANDLE ACCORDINGLY

1. (SBU) SUMMARY AND COMMENT: Croatia's Social Democratic Party
(SDP) will choose a new leader at the June 2 party conference, to
replace Ivica Racan, the former PM who died last month. The
candidates are Zelka Antunovic, former deputy Prime Minister and
Defense Minister; Milan Bandic, current mayor of Zagreb; Tonino
Picula, former Foreign Minister and current mayor of Velika Gorica;
and Zoran Milanovic, current member of parliament and former
diplomat. All four claim to support economic guru Ljubo Jurcic, who
only recently joined the party, for the prime ministerial post
should the SDP win in November - perhaps an attempt to lure
potential coalition candidates who might be less inclined to work
with any of the SDP presidential candidates. All four are long-time
Embassy contacts who endorse Croatia's Euro-Atlantic aspirations.
END SUMMARY AND COMMENT.

A FIGHT TO LEAD THE PARTY, NOT NECESSARILY THE COUNTRY

2. (SBU) The June 2 party conference will determine who will lead
the party into elections, not yet scheduled but expected in
November, but all four candidates have agreed that former Economy
Minister and very recent party member Ljubo Jurcic, Racan's
hand-picked candidate for Prime Minister, should take the PM job if
the SDP wins. Even Bandic, whose support for Jurcic was in doubt
until recently, told the press May 23 that it was logical that
Jurcic, as the author of the SDP's economic program, should lead the
implementation of the program. The candidates - briefly described
below - are holding a series of five closed-door "debates" for party
members in cities around the country before the June 2 vote.

3. (SBU) Zeljka Antunovic: As a deputy PM and Defense Minister in
the 2000-2003 SDP-led coalition government, and a long-time member
of party leadership circles, Antunovic has broad support within the
party, and national name-recognition. An MP since 2003, she
represents continuity with Racan's political philosophy, and was the
natural choice as interim party leader six months ago when Racan's
illness forced him to step down. She is a moderate, articulate,
center-left politician, but is sometimes seen as quarrelsome and can
be defensive when criticized, qualities which would not help her in
the contest against PM Sanader and his ruling Croatian Democratic
Union (HDZ).

4. (SBU) Milan Bandic: Mayor of Zagreb, Croatia's largest city with
some 800,000 inhabitants, Bandic is an action-oriented populist,
loved by the SDP's working-class urban constituents but less highly
regarded by intellectuals and those who hold his Herzegovinan roots
against him. Clever but no intellectual himself, Bandic has a
man-of-the-people approach some find offensive, addressing most
people in this still rather formal culture by their first names, and
using the grammatical familiar. He may be counting on his ties to
Herzegovina to siphon some of the normally right-wing diaspora vote
there, which can vote in Croatian elections, from the HDZ. He has
also recently been courting the Church for support. Nevertheless,
Bandic is not well-liked within the SDP, and could not muster enough
votes four years ago to make it into the party leadership. Although
he could probably carry Zagreb against the HDZ, that possibility may
not make him attractive enough to win the party presidency.

5. (SBU) Tonino Picula: Former Foreign Minister, now mayor of
Croatia's fifth-largest city, Picula spent the coalition years in
Racan's shadow but has been carving out an identity of his own since
the 2005 municipal elections. Formerly seen as an intellectual, he
has demonstrated a more operationally effective side as mayor of the
Zagreb bedroom community of Velika Gorica (pop. 35,000). Unassuming
and lacking in charisma, Picula may have an outside chance of
winning the SDP contest, but he could not compete with PM Sanader.

6. (SBU) Zoran Milanovic: Former diplomat and member of parliament
since 2003, the 41-year-old Milanovic is the only candidate
representing a new generation of politicians who came of age after
Croatian independence. A well-educated lawyer, Milanovic has a good
understanding of issues like EU and NATO membership, but sometimes
appears arrogant. He is not a favorite of the SDP "old guard",
having joined the party only in 1999 in what was seen by some as an
opportunistic move ahead of the SDP's election win. Nevertheless,
the party may see his fresh face and support by young people and
intellectuals as its best hope against the Sanader-led HDZ.

BRADTKE

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