Ex-leftist PM wins Croatia presidency
Zagreb, Croatia - Leftist former prime minister Zoran Milanovic, who has pledged to make Croatia a tolerant country turning the page on its wartime past, won Sunday’s presidential run-off vote, defeating the incumbent conservative leader.
Milanovic took 52.7 per cent of the vote while President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, who had tried to unite a fractured right-wing, garnered 47.3 per cent, according to results based on vote count at nearly all polling stations released by the electoral commission.
The second-round election was held just days after Croatia took over the European Union’s helm for a six-month period, which will be dominated by Brexit and the bloc's enlargement.
At the same time, the EU’s newest member is struggling with a mass exodus of its people, corruption and a lacklustre economy at home.
Grabar-Kitarovic campaigned on a slogan promoting ‘real Croatia’, hinting she believes the ruling conservative HDZ party that backed her was the only one who can truly represent the country.
Milanovic, a Social Democratic, called such statements ‘very dangerous’, and advocated for a ‘normal Croatia’ as a liberal democracy which promotes equality for all citizens.
“Four million of us ... are looking for our place in Europe which is, despite all the problems, the nicest place to live, the most peaceful project in which Croatia must find its place and interest,” Milanovic told supporters in Zagreb after his victory.
“Let’s be united in (our) differences,” the 53 year old said.
In the campaign Milanovic stressed that the ‘wars are over’, referring to Croatia's 1990s independence war that remains an emotive issue.
Grabar-Kitarovic (51), the country’s first woman president, had tried but failed to lure back hardliners who had voted for a nationalist folk singer in the presidential election’s first round in December.
She stressed unity, patriotism and references to the 1990s war in her re-election bid.
Conceding defeat on Sunday evening Grabar-Kitarovic promised a ‘civilised transfer’ of power to Milanovic. She stressed that ‘Croatia needs stability’ and unity as ‘we are the strongest when we are together’.
Analysts say that Milanovic, who dominated in the cities, also won thanks in part to the split among the right-wingers.
The election was viewed as a key test for the ruling HDZ party of moderate Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic ahead of parliamentary elections later this year.
Former Croatian prime minister Zoran Milanovic (right) accompanied by his wife Sanja Music Milanovic casts his ballot, in Zagreb on Sunday