Social Democratic Party (SDP) leader Zoran Milanovic said on Monday that his programme in the campaign for another term as party leader would be "a further fight for people living off their work, for the middle class and the working class, against the domination of big business that will now settle comfortably in the HDZ's coalition."

Speaking to the press after a meeting of the SDP Presidency, Milanovic said that he was a stauncher advocate of social democracy than his critics, noting that his government had enough courage to stand up against "banks ripping off citizens".

He said he was confident that the changes that had been made in Croatia were such that it would not be possible for the country to go back to where it had been ten years ago. "But we can see that all sorts of democratic and parademocratic experiments are possible and I am concerned about that. And that's why we are here, to be a powerful and strong opposition, with the hope that we will return to power very soon and that Croatia will be where it belongs, and that is Western values and not the Near East."

Commenting on accusations by his challenger Zlatko Komadina that he was leading the party Machiavelli style, Milanovic said he had not heard Komadina say that. "We have agreed on the same rules as four years ago," he added.

He said that over the last eight years with him at the SDP's helm a lot had changed in the party on his own insistence. "I was first elected by party members at a convention and now all party members will have an opportunity to vote in general party elections, which no other party has because they do not dare. I had enough courage, and possibly vision, to do so. Not many parties in Europe have this either."

Milanovic said that social democracy in Croatia, after the SDP's election results, was among the strongest in central and eastern Europe, citing the fight for a modern Croatian and European left, socially-sensitive liberalism and protection of minorities. He said that the results the party had scored at the November 8 general election were much better than about ten years ago.

He dismissed Komadina's claim that party members should be more involved in decision-making processes, saying that party members were already involved in decision making, mostly thanks to him, after he made it possible for all members to run as candidates.

Speaking of his advantages for the position of party leader, Milanovic said he was still younger than most of his critics and more politically experienced as a statesman. "I am here to serve the party and obey its judgement," he said.

Commenting on Komadina's announcement that he would "grant amnesty" to people who had been expelled from the party, Milanovic said that the SDP was a party that attracted people, "as could be seen from the number of people who gave us their trust".

He rejected accusations by the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) that he was using them to hold onto power in his party. "It's irrelevant what the HDZ says. It would probably suit them most if the SDP was led by someone who kept quiet and smiled all the time. I have been their dangerous political enemy over these eight and a half years."

Asked if he expected more challengers in the SDP's presidential race, Milanovic said that that was for all party members to decide. "The rules are relatively liberal and I don't decide that," he said, adding that he did not believe that the presidential campaign could split the party.

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