Croatia held an election on Sunday at the time of the rising coronavirus or COVID-19 infections and a severe downfall of the economy due to the pandemic, with the outcome most likely to lead to political negotiations for forming a new government.
The ruling center-right Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) enjoyed a slight advantage over its main rival, Social Democrats (SDP), but neither of the party is seen to be able to rule on its own.
"At these challenging times both for public health and the economy Croatia deserves to be led by experienced and responsible people," Prime Minister and HDZ leader Andrej Plenkovic told supporters this week, hinting at his two top opponents' lack of vision and experience.
Croatia Holds Election
They are SDP leader Davor Bernardic and popular singer Miroslav Skoro, whose nationalist and eurosceptic Domovinski Pokret (Homeland Movement) has fared third in the opinion polls with just above 10 percent support, compared with close to 30% for the two top parties. Polling stations opened at 0500 GMT and will close at 1700 GMT when the exit polls will be released. The first preliminary official results are expected around two hours later.
"My choice is Skoro as I believe his party wants stability and to stop the young people from moving to seek jobs abroad," said Ilija Grlic, a voter from the Zagreb area. The new government will have an uphill task to keep a grip on the coronavirus while trying to restore the economy, expected to shrink some 10 percent this year. Tourism revenues are forecast to slump 70 percent.
"I think that the SDP could be a relative winner, but that the HDZ could be the one to eventually form a (coalition) cabinet," said Kristijan, a teacher, before casting a ballot. Some analysts believe that the two biggest parties may be forced to join forces, as the alternative of trying to form a stable government with junior partners, such as Skoro's Homeland or the conservative Most (Bridge) party, may prove difficult.
Both Plenkovic and Bernardic have firmly rejected the idea of a "grand coalition". Croatia has reported a relatively small number of coronavirus infections — 3,000 COVID-19 cases and around 100 deaths recorded so far — but infections have accelerated in the past two weeks, with the daily number of new cases currently peaking at around 80.
(With agency inputs)