Croatia Voting for President Amid Economic CrisisSoutheast Europe | December 28, 2014, Sunday // 13:31| views
Croatian President Ivo Josipovic gives a statement to the media after casting his vote at a polling station during the presidential elections in Zagreb, 28 December 2014. Photo EPA/BGNES
Croatia started voting for president on Sunday with incumbent Ivo Josipovic tipped as the frontrunner.
Sunday’s vote is seen as a key test for the centre-left government which has faced criticism for its failure to halt economic decline more than a year after Croatia joined the EU.
The government has also been blamed for its failure to tackle the unemployment rate of nearly 20 percent and a soaring youth jobless rate, with half of Croatia’s young people without work.
Croatia has had six years of recession and zero economic growth is likely next year.
A total of four candidates are running for the largely ceremonial post of head of state in the European Union’s newest member state. With none of them expected to win more than 50% of the vote, a run-off round is expected to be held on January 11.
According to opinion polls conducted before the vote, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic of the main opposition conservative Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ)is the most serious challenger to centre-left Josipovic’s bid for a a second term.
In the latest opinion poll, conducted from 11 December to 17 December by Ipsos Puls, Josipovic mustered 46.5% support while Grabar-Kitarovic had 34.9%.
Josipovic, a former law professor, is a member of Croatia's Social Democrats (SDP), the main partner in the government coalition.
Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic is representing the moderate wing in HDZ. She is a former foreign and European affairs minister and a former NATO assistant secretary general.
The other two candidates are Milan Kujundzic, the founder and president of the right-wing populist Croatian Dawn party, which is not represented in parliament, and Ivan Vilibor Sincic, a eurosceptic independent nominated by the citizens’ organisation Human Wall that is fighting to prevent forced evictions of peoplefallen behind on mortgage loan repayments.
About 3.8 million registered voters will cast ballots at 6,350 polling stations. Voting started at 7am local time (0600 GMT) and will close 12 hours later. First partial results are expected late on Sunday.
Croatia's president has a say in foreign policy and intelligence matters and is the head of the armed forces, but has no power to veto legislation.