Croatia is in the grip of general election fever as the bitterly-fought campaign draws to a close before Sunday’s poll. The two main parties, the resurgent Social Democrats and the HDZ Croatian Democratic Union of Prime Minister Ivo Sanader have vowed to take the country into the European Union within four years.
Polls show Sanader is neck-and-neck with his rivals. With the race so close, the tone of the campaign has descended into negativity and personal attacks. Sanader has accused his opponent of being unfit to lead the country. Social Democrat leader Zoran Milanovic has called Sanader a coward and a manipulator.
Despite the mudslinging, both parties want Croatia to join the EU and NATO and say they are committed to judicial reform and fighting corruption. When it comes to the economy the Social Democrats want greater state intervention, while the HDZ is for market liberalism.
After the war for independence, and the economic hardships of the 1990s, the standard of living in Croatia has improved greatly. But an urban consumer boom is not mirrored in the countryside, where there is growing poverty, a lack of investment and an ageing population.