Social Democrat Josipovic tops Croatia presidential poll (Roundup)
Dec 27, 2009, 18:40 GMT
Zagreb - The opposition Social Democratic Party (SPD) candidate Ivo Josipovic won the most votes in the Croatian presidential election Sunday, according to exit polls, but without enough votes to avoid a second-round run-off next month.
Josipovic claimed 32 per cent of the vote, according to the unofficial data. He was however far short of the 50-per-cent mark necessary for a win in the first round of the elections.
In the run-off on January 10, he will face the runner-up from the remaining 11 candidates.
Exit polls said it that was likely to be the populist mayor of Zagreb, Milan Bandic, with 14 per cent. Bandic was also a member of the SPD, but was expelled when he insisted he would run against Josipovic.
The ruling conservative Croatian Democratic Union's runner Andrija Hebrang came in third, with 12 per cent, according to exit polls by TV channels Nova and Ipsos Plus.
That provisional result may yet change, as exit polls do not include voters from abroad. Of the 4.5 million registered voters, some 400,000 live abroad - 300,000 of them in neighbouring Bosnia.
Because of the law allowing dual citizenship to ethnic Croats, 300,000 of whom are also Bosnian citizens, the country has as many registered voters as it has inhabitants.
However, the election was also marked by widespread apathy - only 34 per cent of the 4.5 million registered voters had turned out by 4 pm, three hours before the 7 pm (1800 GMT) close of the polling stations.
The turnout at that time was by 8 per cent lower at the equivalent time in the previous election, when the final turnout was 50 per cent. The low interest at least partly reflects the hardship Croatia faces.
Currently engaged in accession negotiations with Brussels, hoping for membership by 2011, it also must implement painful reforms and cope with the economic crisis and the soaring foreign debt.
The incumbent Stjepan Mesic is ending his decade-long tenure in the office after serving the maximum two terms.