The youngest candidate and the one with the briefest party membership, Zoran Milanovic, is the new president of Croatia’s main opposition Social Democratic Party (SDP). He triumphed in the second round of voting at the extraordinary party convention on Saturday (June 2nd), winning 828 votes. His rival in the runoff, Zeljka Antunovic, got 675 votes.Two other candidates — Zagreb Mayor Milan Bandic and former Foreign Affairs Minister Tonino Picula — did not get enough votes to make it into the second round.
Milanovic, 40, is the second president of SDP in the party’s history. Its founder and first president, Ivica Racan, died of cancer on April 29th.
Milanovic is a new figure on the Croatian political scene, a fact which political analysts see as a major advantage. Young and determined, eloquent and ambitious, he started to gain public attention in 2004. Although he was an SDP member then, he was not active within the party. He worked as the assistant minister of foreign affairs during the SDP led coalition government, with responsibility for multilateral relations and, especially, ties with NATO.
After the SDP lost power in the 2003 elections, Milanovic decided it was time to become more active politically. He joined the SDP and became a close assistant to Racan, who saw in him the potential to attract a new generation of politicians to the party. Indeed, Croatian media have characterised Milanovic as a “man for change”, while his rival candidate for the SDP leadership are seen as representing continuity. Milanovic was able to captialise on media attention effectively, projecting a winning image.
With only a few months left before the November parliamentary elections, the new party leader has a lot of work to do. He will have to ensure that the SDP remains stable and united under the new leadership. He will have to convince the older generation of politicians that he is the right choice and that he will continue to cherish and implement social democratic values and the legacy of Racan.
It has already been agreed that the new SDP president will not be a candidate for prime minister. Instead, the SDP will nominate Ljubo Jurcic to challenge the incumbent prime minister, HDZ’s Ivo Sanader. Jurcic is a professor and former economy minister who has drafted a growth programme that he says will dramatically boost Croatia’s economy.
If SDP wins the elections, the president of the party will have an important position in the executive branch.