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Tough coalition talks begin in Croatia

Croatia's political parties have opened negotiations after the conservative opposition won a slim majority. Uncertainty lies ahead for a country tackling the migration crisis and sluggish economy.

Coalition talks opened Monday the day after the conservative Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) and its allies

won 59 seats in the 151-seat parliament.

The outgoing left-leaning Social Democrats won 56 seats in the Sunday poll, preliminary results show.

But the big winner has been the three-year-old Most party which took 19 seats and may emerge as the kingmaker in a future coalition.

"Without Most there will be no government and we will decide on the new prime minister and how the new government will look," senior party member Drago Prgomet told regional television network N1.

'Most' wants radical reforms

The Most party - which means "bridge" in Croatian - campaigned on overhauling an inefficient public sector and judiciary as part of a series of radical economic reforms. But its effectiveness remains untested and it will have its own internal challenges as it draws together members from disparate political backgrounds.

Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic of the SDP was already inviting Most to form a coalition with his center-left bloc as the results came in, telling his supporters: "We cannot go it alone and we need partners."

The nationalist-rooted HDZ has proposed stricter border controls to help manage the flow of

migrants transiting the small Adriatic nation of 4.4 million.

Its leader, ex-spy chief Tomislav Karamarko, has already announced his intention to take charge of the country.

Whichever party takes power will face many challenges. Croatia which joined the EU in 2013, is one of the bloc's poorest-performing economies. The European Commission recently urged the ex-Yugoslav republic to rein in its

public debt,

nearly 90 percent of gross domestic product.

Unemployment was at 16.2 percent in September, 43.1 percent among young people.

Under the constitution, the president must consult parliamentary parties and nominate a prime minister-designate who has the support of the majority of MPs.

But lack of an outright majority means it could take weeks of horse-trading to form a government, delaying much-needed reform for the country as it struggles to break six years of economic recession.

jar/kms (AFP, Reuters)

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