21.04.2008. / 11:13

Autor: Robert Bajruši

Political report

Bandic and Milanovic fighting it out for Zagreb

Zoran Milanovic wants to gain complete control of the SDP after the May convention and find a new candidate for the post of Zagreb mayor

Close associates of Milan Bandic's are deeply convinced that Zoran Milanovic will, after the SDP convention in May, try to find a new party candidate for the post of Zagreb mayor. In other words, Bandic's team is getting ready for a showdown with the party leadership if the issue of another Social Democrat candidate for mayor is put on the agenda.

"I think this is an unavoidable scenario because at the convention Milanovic will, almost certainly, strengthen his position and gain complete control over the SDP. He is not a politician of the Racan type, who always sought a consensus between his associates, and we expect him to attack the remaining opposition, and Bandic is first in line in that regard. At issue is not just personal character, but also pure pragmatism, because let's imagine a situation in which the SDP would next year be defeated at the local elections, and at the same time hold on to power in Zagreb. Who could in those circumstances prevent Bandic's advances against Milanovic", feels a critic of the current party leader.

Bandic's people feel that there are three candidates that the SDP might put forward for the mayorship in May of 2009. Two are people close to Milanovic's associates: Boris Sprem, until recently the chief of staff to President Mesic, who has for years had the status of being Bandic's opponent, while Neven Mimica is a candidate for the post of SDP vice-president, and is also a member of the new party leadership. But there is little likeliness that either Mimica or Sprem could take over the largest SDP organisation in the country. And although he is a city councillor, Mimica is turned to national politics and has never taken a great interest in local issues, while even his good acquaintances doubt in Sprem's organisational abilities.

The third potential candidate regarding whom there has been much more serious talk is Ivo Jelusic, the Zagreb Deputy Mayor and until recently a close associate of Bandic's. Now there are accusations being levelled at him that he has distanced himself from his political mentor and moved towards the party headquarters. Allegedly Milanovic, without Bandic's knowledge, engaged Jelusic immediately following the elections to carry out negotiations with Mazif Memedi, the Roma minority MP. It is also said of Jelusic that he controls the Novi Zagreb – West SPD branch organisation, which was prompt in putting forward Milanovic's presidential candidature, which infuriated the Mayor's people.

Jelusic is, on the other hand, completely unknown to the wider public and it is hard to imagine his success in direct elections. Not long ago a version in which Ivo Josipovic played the role of candidate was floated, but he rejected the possibility of being nominated. In any event, if Milanovic was to enter into a confrontation with Bandic, because of the lack of a strong party representative in the city, he would have to count of the strength of the SDP as a party and hope to attract votes that way.

The basic problem with that kind of concept is that it is Bandic himself that attracts a part of the voting population. Back in Racan's time an internal survey was carried out that confirmed that the Social Democrats can always count on about 30 percent of the vote in Zagreb, and that Bandic, as a kind of brand name, contributed a further 12 to 15 percent.
That is a fact that the Zagreb Mayor is counting on. If the party were to disown him he still controls a powerful organisation in Zagreb, one he could transform into his own party slate on short notice. Something similar was done by Zoran Jankovic, the current Mayor of Ljubljana, the difference being that he had won the support of the left, while Bandic stands to lose it. On the other hand, Bandic's objective problem is a significant loss of influence within the ranks of the Zagreb SDP.

Exactly a year ago he controlled at least 300 hundred branch organisations, and then Zoran Milanovic suddenly came on the scene. As early as during the preparations for the last electoral convention it was evident that a part of the membership was turning their back on Bandic, and the erosion of support has continued. Milanovic's allies currently control about 40 percent of the party branches in the city, which was just a while ago unthinkable, but it is a fact that Bandic still controls the majority in Zagreb. Besides, almost all of the presidents of the branch organisations are on the municipal payroll and their livelihood depends on their association with the mayor.

Bandic is convinced that he has the infrastructure needed if the SDP were to try to dump him, even though he would prefer to stay a part of the party. Everything is known anyways, he cannot stand Milanovic, nor can Milanovic stand him. But in politics tactics are also important, and up to now neither of the two stood to gain from embarking on a final showdown. At least not ahead of the electoral convention, which will show whether Milanovic has in fact taken full control of the SDP, and whether Bandic will be marginalised. If he does not succeed in winning a seat in the party presidency, an estrangement is very likely.

The most recent of Bandic's moves that has been interpreted by Milanovic's allies as a provocation, was the appointment of Irena Divkovic to the post of editor of Z1, a local TV station. Although the Z1 channel wields only minor influence, Bandic had to have known that favouring Irena Divkovic would provoke Milanovic. She is a former editor of Imperijal, a newspaper under the influence of the intelligence community underworld. She had been very close to Ivic Pasalic and Markica Rebic. She also maintained contacts with PM Ivo Sanader, when he served as deputy foreign minister in the late 1990s and was considered a member of the liberal fraction within the HDZ. Imperijal served above all as a platform from which to attack the liberal fraction in the HDZ, and the chief targets were Hrvoje Sarinic and Franjo Greguric. When Pasalic and that entire team came to naught, so did Imperijal.

Irena Divkovic is also in a relationship with Zoran O. Milanovic, a reporter with the Vjesnik daily and a critic of the SDP president. There is practically no insult Zoran O. Milanovic has not levelled at Zoran Milanovic. He recently compared him to Mihail Suslov, Stalin's associate and for years the ideologist of the Communist Party of the USSR. Zoran O. Milanovic was up to 1995 among the closest associates of Fikret Abdic, the self-proclaimed president of the autonomous region of Western Bosnia, who has been convicted as a war criminal to a stiff prison sentence. Unlike Abdic, Zoran O. Milanovic has remained a free man and works in the pro-government Vjesnik daily.

"None of us, of course, thinks any good of Bandic, but I think that the appointment of Irena Divkovic is not a political, but rather a sociological issue. Milan Bandic likes to surround himself with the demimonde, and Irena Divkovic and her husband, then Nenad Ivankovic, Mislav Zagar and their likes fall into precisely this social milieu. Nevertheless, I would not say that Bandic means to bring down Zoran Milanovic with the help of Irena Divkovic. That is ridiculous, but these are Bandic's people", feels one of the SDP president's closest associates.

Bandic's people provoked further perturbation by nominating Mato Arlovic and Zeljka Antunovic for the presidency, proven opponents of Zoran Milanovic. "That example too shows how trivial these people are. Up until recently they were the chief rivals, and now all of the Bandic-controlled branches are in a race to see who will give stronger support to Zeljka Antunovic”, he added.

Milanovic’s associate confirms that he is aware of the other side’s plans. It bois down to Bandic’s fundamental ambition, and that is to win the next race for the mayorship. Only a few in the SDP believe that the Social Democrats will come out of May of 2009 with a good showing at the polls, while the majority warn that a very poor result is possible, including a fall from power in most of Croatia, with the exception of the city of Rijeka and the Primorje coastal region, a few towns such as Koprivnica and Pozega and a few other in the northwest of the country. That kind of outcome would weaken Milanovic’s position, and that is what Milan Bandic is waiting for, as are all others who are unsatisfied but are currently unable to offer greater resistance. For these heterogeneous groups a defeat at the local elections would be a welcome one as it would broach the issue of the qualities of the current SDP president.

Even in that situation Bandic could likely not count on taking over the reins of the party, but then no one could open the issue of his dismissal. Also, several sources close to the Mayor have confirmed that he does in fact want to run in the elections for the President of the Republic, slated for early 2010. Within the SDP there is absolutely no consensus on a candidate, outside of the position that the leading opposition party should this time out forward its own candidate. The last time they had their own candidate was with Zdravko Tomac back in 1997, while in 2000 they gave formal support to their coalition partner Drazen Budisa, and in 2005 the entire opposition backed Stipe Mesic.

With Mesic’s departure the promotion of their own candidate becomes an issue of credibility, but no one knows who it will be. The only one with true ambitions is Bandic, but for Milanovic that sort of outcome is unthinkable. Equally so, Milanovic knows where the greatest threat will come from in the event of a poor showing at the local elections. However much he tries to create the impression that the kind of behaviour displayed by the HDZ is not possible in the SDP, including chucking opponents out of the party, the new changes to the party statues provide for precisely that possibility. In the past it was the county organisations that could rule on dismissing someone from party membership, and now that will become a power vested in the party presidency.

If Milanovic’s associates succeed in winning a majority in the nine-member presidency – an that is what will by all accounts happen – opponents within the party will depend exclusively on the mood in the SDP leadership. As the most dangerous opponent Bandic would then find himself in a position in which his survival in the Social Democrat Party would be threatened.

Komadina is the favourite for the post of SDP vice president

As was expected, Zoran Milanovic remains the only candidate for the post of SDP president ahead of the convention that is to be held in Zagreb on 10 May. The nomination procedure closed Monday and it is evident that the main battle will be led for seats in the presidency. Judging by information coming out of the party branches, it appears that Milanovic’s allies have a significant advantage, also as a result of the method of voting, because all 2140 delegates will decide on the members of the presidency, regardless of which region they come from. The favourites for the two posts of vice-president are Milanka Opacic, Neven Mimica and Zlatko Komadina. Also nominated is Ingrid Anticevic-Marinovic, while the party brass have judged the nominations of Damir Gasparovic and Dragan Kovacevic, backed by some municipal branch organisations, to be provocations.

Milanovic would like to see Marina Lovric, Biljana Borzan, Ranko Ostojic, Zvonimir Mrsic and Zeljko Jovanovic among the other seven members of the presidency, while his opposition has nominated Milan Bandic, Zeljka Antunovic, Marin Jurjevic, Davorko Vidovic and some other, less prominent, members.

Ljubo Jurcic rejected the offer from the anti-Milanovic camp and will not run for any post, with the exception of the Central Committee, which he is an ex-officio member. Ad although he has not spoken to Milanovic in two months, he has judged that he does not wish to enter a campaign in which his support would come from Arlovic, Bandic and Zeljka Antunovic, with whom he is everything but a natural ally.

A replacement for Milan Bandic

In the Milan Bandic camp they are convinced that the party leadership is considering three candidates for the post of Zagreb mayor, once they have pushed Bandic to the sidelines. They are Boris Sprem, until recently the chief of staff to the President of the Republic, SDP vice presidential candidate Neven Mimica and the current Zagreb Deputy Mayor Ivo Jelusic.

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