Croatia’s pro-Western president Stipe Mesic narrowly missed victory on Sunday, falling just below the 50-percent mark needed to win re-election outright. A run-off against Jadranka Kosor has been scheduled.
Croatian President Stipe Mesic hopes for another five years
On Monday, official results showed Croatia’s incumbent president had won the first round of elections, taking 49 percent of the vote compared to conservative candidate Deputy Prime Minister Kosor of the ruling Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), who received 20.18 percent of the ballots. Mesic’s take, however, was not enough to secure an outright victory, and the presidential race will go into a second round on Jan. 16, the electoral commission reported.
Mesic, who has his sites fixed on leading his country into the European Union during the next five years, was jubilant after the results were announced. Although election precincts reported a lower than expected turnout, he said he was pleased with the outcome. His candidacy has been endorsed by the three main center-left opposition parties who were defeated by the HDZ in 2003.
The 70-year-old Mesic called on all people in the former war-torn Yugoslav republic to turn out in full strength for the run-off in two weeks.
“Croatia must be a modern, European and democratic country with satisfied citizens," he said. "It will be possible only if we change many things. We will decide where Croatia is heading, to the 21st century or back in time."
Voters cast their ballots at the polling station in Zagreb, Croatia on Jan. 2, 2005. About 4.4 million people, including 400,000 Croats living abroad, voted.
Observers believe Mesic will most likely win a second term in the run-off against the more conservative Kosor, who is widely seen as a close ally of Prime Minister Ivo Sanader.
“I think Kosor has little chance of winning in the second round,” analyst Nenad Zakosek told Reuters after results were released just after midnight.
A first for women
Kosor, who is the first woman to run for the presidency, said she was very pleased with the results of the first ballot.
“I am very happy that for the first time we have two candidates, one of which is a woman,” she said. “This shows the maturity of voters since the most frequent question during the campaign was whether Croatia was mature enough to have a woman for a president.”
The former journalist and deputy prime minister responsible for families and war veterans has stood by Prime Minister Sanader and his efforts to turn the HDZ from its nationalist past to a modern pro-European party.
Analysts, however, have criticized her campaign as lacking popular appeal and a strong political personality. Her position on the ballot was hotly contested by Croatian-US businessman Boris Miksic, who finished third with 17.8 percent of the vote.
The strong showing of Miksic, an outsider on Croatia’s political scene whose support was not expected to break out of the single digits, was described as a protest vote.
”This is a protest of Croatian voters against the politics being led here,” Vesna Pusic, a lawmaker with a leftist opposition party told AFP.
Mesic and Kosor both pledged a better future for Croatians along the same lines – EU membership, the strengthening of the rule of law and fighting corruption.
Paving the way to Europe
Croatian President Stipe Mesic
Mesic, who said he was confident of winning re-election, owes much of his popularity to the role he played in ending the Balkan nation’s international isolation and completing its democratic reforms after succeeding authoritarian leader Franjo Tudjman.
He significantly reduced presidential powers as the country turned into a parliamentary democracy following changes in 2000. However, the president remains the supreme commander of the military and a co-creator of foreign policy along with the prime minister.
The president will also oversee Croatia’s entry into the European Union, which is planned for 2009. Croatia has been put on a fast track to accession with Brussels deciding last month to launch membership talks in March. Zagreb hopes to fulfil membership criteria by 2007 but its bid depends on full cooperation with the UN War Crimes Tribunal following the Balkans wars of the 1990s which will be closely monitored by Brussels. Mesic has vowed to deliver the war crimes suspects to the international court, despite strong criticism from war veterans and nationalists.