Dražen Šimić

Those who follow Croatian politics know that the Social Democrats (SDP) have formed a coalition with several smaller parties and called it Restart. The objective is the forthcoming parliamentary election, scheduled for 5 July.

This is a prudent and logical move. Practice has so far indicated that the main nationalist party, HDZ, can be beaten with a stable and coherent coalition. The last time this happened was in 2011 with the so-called Kukuriku coalition. It also happened in 2000, when the former SDP leader, Ivica Račan, had the liberal Dražen Budiša and his HSLS party in his camp.

Members of the new coalition understand that HDZ is a traditional, conservative party, often radically anti-liberal in how they approach things. They also understand that a significant proportion of the electorate despises them. It is therefore quite a smart move to describe the coalition as “the headquarters for the defence of Croatia from HDZ.”

However, Restart has a couple of serious problems to begin with. Firstly, they need to become bigger and stronger. They announced that they would negotiate with regional parties, and they managed to convince the biggest party in Istria, IDS, to join them. In order to succeed, Restart should eventually become about as strong as the aforementioned Kukuriku once was, which won’t be easy. That coalition had a strong liberal HNS within its ranks, whereas Restart can count on the remnants of that party in the shape of GLAS. Restart would also do well to invite another centrist liberal party, Pametno, to join them. Although small, the party would be a good addition to the brand. And of course, a firm coalition agreement needs to be worked out so that there are no squabbles afterwards.

Perhaps the biggest problem for the coalition is the leader of SDP, Davor Bernardić. Although we don’t know what sort of prime minister he could become, it seems that in the eyes of the public Mr Bernardić is not a sufficiently convincing candidate for the job. Perception, not just ability itself, can sometimes cause difficulties, so it is up to the SDP leader to convince the electorate.

Another solution would be to give more room to partners from other parties, to improve the overall impression. Sound support of strong personalities in the coalition (Mrak Taritaš, Beljak) would have a positive effect on the image of Mr Bernardić.

It should be extremely interesting to observe how the new president, Zoran Milanović, affects the election campaign. Although formally neutral, Mr Milanović is a symbol of liberal Croatia and his every gesture will carry weight.

We should wish good luck to Restart. Healthy democracy is about competition. Moreover, if they win, Croatia would for a while be rid of the nationalist HDZ and hangers-on like the mayor of Zagreb, Milan Bandić, and this incarnation of HNS. That would be good news for everyone.

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