Conservative set to become Croatia first woman president
Opposition conservative Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic was set to become Croatia`s first female president on Sunday after winning a runoff vote with a pledge to kickstart the country`s ailing economy, exit polls showed.
Zagreb: Opposition conservative Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic was set to become Croatia`s first female president on Sunday after winning a runoff vote with a pledge to kickstart the country`s ailing economy, exit polls showed.
Grabar-Kitarovic, a 46-year-old ex-foreign minister and former NATO official, had 51.4 percent of the vote, according to exit polls released by state-run HRT television after Sunday`s run-off.
Her rival, centre-left incumbent Ivo Josipovic, garnered 48.6 percent of the vote, showed the exit polls released by the Ipsos Puls agency.
The first partial official results were to be released by the electoral commission around 2030 GMT.
Should they confirm the exit polls, Grabar-Kitarovic, who ran on behalf of the main opposition HDZ party, will be the first Croatian woman to take the helm of the European Union`s newest member.
She would also become the first female head of state chosen by voters in the largely patriarchal Balkans region since Albania`s Jatifete Jahjaga was elected by parliament in 2011.
The election for the largely ceremonial post was held as Croatia, which became the EU`s 28th member in July 2013, grappled with a deep economic crisis.
Josipovic, a popular former law professor and classical music composer who belongs to the Social Democrats (SDP), the main force in the ruling coalition, had also pledged to pump new life into the economy.
Although presidential powers are limited in Croatia, Sunday`s vote is seen as a key test for parliamentary elections later this year in which Grabar-Kitarovic`s HDZ is likely to make significant gains.
Exit polls results showed that voters voiced their dissatisfaction with the SDP-led government`s performance and Josipovic`s failure to criticise its economic policies.
The government of Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic became increasingly unpopular as Croatia grappled to overcome recession for six consecutive years.
"The recession ... is not only the consequence of the global crisis in 2008. The problems rather are structural and the authorities have not been solving them," economic analyst Damir Novotny told AFP.
Hopes that entry into the EU would be an economic boost for the small Adriatic nation of 4.2 million have faded. Croatia`s economy remains among the EU bloc`s weakest. Unemployment is almost 20 percent, half of job-seekers under the age of 25 are unemployed and the government forecasts a meagre 0.5 percent growth this year.
Analysts say the ruling coalition has failed to reform the huge and inefficient public sector, improve the business climate and attract EU development funds.
Josipovic had vowed to initiate constitutional changes -- namely decentralisation -- as a way to revive the economy.
But Grabar-Kitarovic labelled Josipovic the "incapable and cold-hearted government`s accomplice" in bringing about economic hardship.
"I will face with courage and determination all problems that Croatia is suffering from," she said after voting in downtown Zagreb.
"We are deciding on the direction in which Croatia will go."
Josipovic countered by arguing that his rival would not bring change given that she was a minister in the graft-plagued HDZ government headed by ex-prime minister Ivo Sanader -- who was tried and jailed for corruption.
"We are in a crisis and we now know why... You were in the government that was robbing Croatia, the government of Ivo Sanader," Josipovic said.
But Srecko Lukac, a voter from Zagreb, said: "Kolinda is above all a Catholic and has an impeccable career. She is a woman of the world, educated and certainly a patriot.
Croatia is a predominantly Catholic country.