Conservative leader Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic has become Croatia's first female president-elect. Grabar-Kitarovic beat center-left incumbent Ivo Josipovic in Sunday's runoff vote to take the country's top job.
Croatia elected its first female president on Sunday after Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, a member of the conservative Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), defeated Social Democrat (SDP) and current President Ivo Josipovic.
Grabar-Kitarovic won 50.54 percent of the vote while Josipovic won 49.46 percent, the state election commission said, after 97 percent of the ballots cast had been counted.
Josipovic, a law professor and composer of classical music, received 38.5 percent in the first round of the election, just one percentage point ahead of Grabar-Kitarovic.
The runoff was called because neither candidate received more than 50 percent of the vote needed to win outright in the first round of voting.
'Vote for a change'
Grabar-Kitarovic, 46, will also be the first conservative head of state in Croatia after 15 years of leftist leaders. A staunchly Catholic nation, Croatia declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1991.
Grabar-Kitarovic previously held two positions in the Croatian government, European integration minister and foreign minister. In 2008, she became Zagreb's ambassador to Washington and assistant secretary to the NATO secretary general.
Earlier on Sunday, Grabar-Kitarovic said she was "very confident" of winning the vote because people would "vote for a change."
Improving economy a priority
The president's post in Croatia is a ceremonial position, but the vote could mean that the center-left government in Zagreb may have to improve its performance ahead of the parliamentary elections, scheduled for November.
However, Josipovic's defeat could mean that the polls take place earlier than expected. Grabar-Kitarovic said in an interview before the vote that she expected Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic of the SDP to come up with concrete measures to improve the economy.
"If there are none [measures], then we have to begin considering that the present government should go," she said.
Croatia, a member of the European Union since July 2013, suffers from a 20 percent unemployment rate, one of the highest in the world.
mg/cmk (AP, dpa)