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Croatia election preview: Plenković seeks second mandate in tight race

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Andrej Plenkovic, Croatia's Prime Minister incumbent smiles as he addresses the media in Zagreb, Croatia, Thursday, April 9, 2020
Andrej Plenkovic, Croatia's Prime Minister incumbent smiles as he addresses the media in Zagreb, Croatia, Thursday, April 9, 2020   -   Copyright  AP/Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved
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Croatia is holding a parliamentary election on Sunday amid a second coronavirus wave and with no clear winner in sight.

The country’s current conservative government initially handled the pandemic relatively successfully and has appealed to voters for continued support.

But polls suggested a liberal coalition has a slight lead over the ruling Croatian Democratic Union.

The main contenders: Croatian Democratic Union and Restart Coalition

The governing Croatian Democratic Union, better known in Croatia as Hrvatska demokratska zajednicaor (HDZ), has dominated the political scene since steering Croatia to independence in 1991 from the former Yugoslavia and through the war that followed.

Staunchly nationalist in the past, the HDZ has moved toward the conservative centre under the leadership of Prime Minister Andrej Plenković, who was first appointed in 2016.

The shift has alienated some of the party's right-wing supporters.

The main challenger for the right to govern is Davor Bernardić, leader of the centre-left Social Democratic Party (SDP), which is allied with several smaller groups in the Restart coalition.

The alliance has urged voters to choose a new beginning as opposed to the ruling party's message of choosing a safe bet.

The SDP led the Croatian government from 2000 to 2003 and from 2011 to 2016.

Bernardić became the party leader after the SDP lost the 2016 parliamentary election.

The party won the country's presidential election back in January with Its candidate Zoran Milanović.

Restart has topped pre-election polls, but analysts say the conservatives are not far behind.

A folksinger to become kingmaker?

None of the remaining parties is as strong as the main players, but two new groups have emerged in the election from both the left and the right.

The right-wing Homeland Movement, which is led by folk singer Miroslav Skoro, is believed to be chipping away votes from the ruling HDZ party.

Skoro ran for president last year and finished third in the election's first round.

On the left, a new green-left coalition led by the Mozemo, or We Can group, has gathered civic activists and gained ground particularly in the capital of Zagreb.

The group has attracted voters who are disappointed with the centre-left SDP's record in politics.