Sup­port boost for hard­lin­ers

The Citizen (KZN) - - World - Za­greb

– Croatians went to the polls yes­ter­day to elect a new pres­i­dent in an un­cer­tain vote where the con­ser­va­tive in­cum­bent faces a se­ri­ous chal­lenge from a left­ist for­mer prime min­is­ter.

About 3.8 mil­lion peo­ple were el­i­gi­ble to vote in a poll that was be­ing held just days af­ter Croa­tia took over the Euro­pean Union’s helm for a six-month pe­riod.

At the same time, the EU’s new­est mem­ber is strug­gling with a mass ex­o­dus of its peo­ple, cor­rup­tion and a lack­lus­tre econ­omy.

Cen­tre-right in­cum­bent Kolinda Grabar-Ki­tarovic was cam­paign­ing on a “real Croa­tia” ticket and Zo­ran Mi­lanovic, a for­mer So­cial Demo­cratic pre­mier, promised a “nor­mal” lib­eral democ­racy of equal cit­i­zens.

The out­come of the vote for the largely cer­e­mo­nial post was un­cer­tain, with the lat­est sur­vey by Ip­sos agency giv­ing Mi­lanovic a three-per­cent­age-point lead over Grabar-Ki­tarovic.

The lat­ter, backed by the rul­ing HDZ party, would have to lure back hard­lin­ers who voted for a na­tion­al­ist folk singer in the elec­tion’s first round in De­cem­ber.

Dom­i­nat­ing in cities, Mi­lanovic led the first round with around a third of the vote, thanks in part to that split among the right-wingers.

An­a­lysts said the first-round re­sults showed an in­crease in sup­port for hard­lin­ers, a trend seen in other Euro­pean coun­tries, such as Poland or Hun­gary.

If Grabar-Ki­tarovic failed to win the pres­i­dency, it would deal a heavy blow to the HDZ, whose mod­er­ate prime min­is­ter, An­drej Plenkovic, faces par­lia­men­tary elec­tions later this year.

“I am a Croa­tia that uni­fies,” Grabar-Ki­tarovic, 51, said dur­ing a TV elec­tion de­bate with her ri­val.

Unity, pa­tri­o­tism and ref­er­ences to the 1990s in­de­pen­dence war, that re­mains an emo­tive is­sue, were the key points of her re-elec­tion bid.

“We should come to­gether as in 1990”, be­fore the coun­try de­clared in­de­pen­dence from Yu­goslavia, Croa­tia’s first fe­male pres­i­dent told her sup­port­ers in Za­greb.

Mean­while, Mi­lanovic in­sisted that the “wars are over” and Croa­tia should now fight for its place in Europe.

“There is no ‘real Croa­tia’... rather a Croa­t­ian repub­lic for all, equal cit­i­zens,” the 53-year-old told a cam­paign rally in his na­tive Za­greb.

Pre­sent­ing her­self as the “woman of the peo­ple” with hum­ble farm­ing roots, Grabar-Ki­tarovic is well known for stunts, such as singing in pub­lic which her crit­ics de­ride as em­bar­rass­ing.

The EU’s open borders have also ac­cel­er­ated the ex­o­dus of its peo­ple to seek bet­ter pay in wealth­ier mem­ber states.

“Our young­sters are leav­ing, that is the big­gest prob­lem, while politi­cians are only in­sult­ing each other,” said St­jepan Golub, a 70-year-old man from Za­greb.

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