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Croatia presidential race to go to runoff on January 5

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Croatia's presidential election is likely to require a January run-off
Croatia's presidential election is likely to require a January run-off   -  
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AP - Darko Bandic
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Croatia's tight presidential race will go to a runoff vote in two weeks, after exit polls and initial returns indicated that none of the candidates had won the office outright.

With nearly 90% of the ballots counted, state election authorities in Croatia reported that left-wing politician Zoran Milanovic led the first round of voting with nearly 30% support. President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic had almost 27%, followed by right-wing singer Miroslav Skoro in third place with around 24%.

Milanovic and Grabar Kitarovic now will face each other in a second round of voting Jan. 5.

As polls closed on Sunday evening, election authorities said turnout was higher than during the last election in 2014, with some 100,000 more voters having cast ballots by mid-afternoon despite bad weather.

The presidential election was tight, with the ruling conservatives seeking to keep their grip on power days before the country takes over the European Union's presidency for the first time.

Some 3.8 million voters in the European Union's newest member state had to pick among 11 candidates, but only three were considered to be the front runners while the others are lagging far behind.

Conservative incumbent Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic is running for a second term, challenged by leftist former Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic and right-wing singer Miroslav Skoro.

Though the post is largely ceremonial in Croatia — the president formally commands the army and represents the country abroad — keeping the presidency is important for the ruling Croatian Democratic Union party as its government is set to assume the EU rotating chairmanship on Jan. 1 that that will include overseeing Brexit and the start of post-Brexit talks.

AP
Croatia's presidential election is likely to require a January run-offAPDarko Bandic

Grabar-Kitarovic had started off stronger than other candidates but her position has weakened after she made a series of gaffes during the campaign.

She is still believed to have a slight lead going into the election, followed closely by Milanovic. Skoro is trailing third, chipping away right-wing votes from Grabar-Kitarovic.

Analysts believe that Grabar-Kitarovic and Milanovic — who represent two main political options — will face each other in the Jan. 5 runoff, but they haven't completely ruled out an upset by Skoro.

After voting in Zagreb, leftist former Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic predicted there would be a runoff.

``We have done all we could, I have done my best,`` he said. ``People could see that and now it is up to them to decide.''

Though it has recovered since the 1991-95 war that followed the breakup of former Yugoslavia, Croatia still has one of the poorest economies in the EU and corruption is believed to be widespread.

Critics have blasted the government for setting the election three days before Christmas when many people travel abroad.

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