Those who follow Croatian politics already know that the Social Democrats (SDP) have formed a coalition with several smaller parties and called it Restart.
This is a prudent, 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 Dražen Budiša and a much stronger HSLS in his camp.
Members of the new coalition understand that HDZ is a traditional, conservative centre-right party, often radically anti-liberal in how they do 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. For starters, they simply need to become bigger and stronger. They announced that they would negotiate with regional parties, primarily IDS, which is one way of expanding. To succeed, Restart should be more attractive as coalition partners and eventually grow about as strong as the aforementioned Kukuriku once was, which won’t be easy. That coalition had a strong 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, this 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 the ability itself, can sometimes cause difficulties.
One 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.
Finally, a ‘radical’ proposal to end on. The social liberals, HSLS, are much smaller than twenty years ago, but they have a new and ambitious leader who has done great things as mayor of the town of Bjelovar. They are currently with HDZ, but if there is mutual interest, Dario Hrebak would most certainly be a welcome addition.
We should wish good luck to Restart. If they win, Croatia would for a while be rid of HDZ and hangers-on like Milan Bandić and this incarnation of HNS. That would be good news for everyone.