ZAGREB, Croatia (AP) – A liberal incumbent and a conservative rival are heading into a surprisingly close showdown in Croatia’s presidential runoff – held amid deep discontent over economic woes in the European Union’s newest member.
The Sunday vote is seen as a major test for Croatia’s centre-left government, which is preparing for parliamentary elections this year under a cloud of criticism over its handling of the crisis. A conservative triumph could shift Croatia back into right-wing nationalism, jeopardising relations with bitter Balkan wartime rival Serbia.
Incumbent Ivo Josipovic, 57, is a soft-spoken law professor, pianist and composer who campaigned on a platform of constitutional change, including legislative veto powers for the largely ceremonial presidency.
Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, 46, is a former foreign minister and an ex-assistant to the NATO secretary general. Grabar-Kitarovic is opposed to Josipovic’s proposed constitutional changes and accuses him of doing nothing to stop the Croatian economic downslide.
The presidency in Croatia is a largely ceremonial position, but the vote is considered an important test for the main political parties before the parliamentary elections expected in the second half of the year. A victory for Grabar-Kitarovic – giving her a five-year term – would greatly boost the chances of her centre-right Croatian Democratic Union to win back power.
She would be Croatia’s first woman president.