The center-right party is on course to build a new coalition following the parliamentary vote, exit polls suggest. The opposition said voters had been endangered by the early elections amid the COVID-19 outbreak.
The ruling Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) is poised for victory in Croatia’s parliamentary election, exit polls indicated on Sunday.
HDZ was slated for 61 seats in the 151-member parliament, followed by 44 from their main rivals in a center-left coalition led by the Social Democrats, according to an exit poll from Ipsos agency.
The far-right Homeland Movement was projected to win 16 seats. Two smaller parties, Mozemo (We Can) and MOST (Bridge) were expected to grab eight seats each.
Support of former singer Miroslav Skoro’s far-right Homeland Movement, which is seen as a natural partner for the HDZ, could be crucial for either party to form the next government. The two parties could alone control a clear majority in the legislature.
Croatia recorded a low turnout of voters amid the coronavirus outbreak. The turnout at 4:30 p.m. local time (1430 UTC/GMT) was around 34%, according to the state election commission (DIP).
In the 2016 snap polls, the turnout was 37% at the same point, while the final turnout reached nearly 53%.
Opinion polls predicted a close election race, with neither Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic’s HDZ nor the SDP likely to win a majority in the 151-member parliament.
Prime Minister Plenkovic, whose HDZ has led Croatia for most of its nearly 30-year independence, may have a better chance of finding allies to form the next government, analysts say.
Hoping to capitalize on what appears to be a good performance in tackling the COVID-19 pandemic, Plenkovic moved the election a few months forward.
Experts say he also wanted to hold elections before the coronavirus’ economic fallout is fully felt by the public.
Croatia has so far registered 3,000 infections and 110 related deaths, however, the country has seen an uptick in coronavirus cases in recent weeks.
The left-leaning Social Democrats (SDP) accused the government of endangering citizens by “rushing” to hold the elections early, instead of their initial plans for autumn. But Plenkovic defended the move, saying the “sooner the better” for safety reasons.
“All recommendations of all experts were that it (virus) can be more dangerous in autumn than it is now, that is why the elections are today,” the 50-year-old told reporters after casting his ballot.
Voters were advised to wear masks and stay away from the polling stations if they were feeling sick. They were also told to bring their own pen.
“Whoever wins [the election] will face major economic problems in the autumn. It won’t be easy,” Igor Ivic, a 49-year-old economist, told AFP news agency.
One of the main tasks for the next government will be to revive the country’s economy, which is heavily dependent on tourism. The tourism sector has suffered badly due to the pandemic.
The SDP-led Restart coalition accuses the government of being corrupt.
“Today your future is being decided, the fate of your families will be decided, and the future of our country,” SDP leader Davor Bernardic said on Sunday. “Every vote counts. Do not throw away your vote, and don’t let somebody else decide for you. We offered a clear alternative, a clear direction, and a clear vision of the future.”
shs/mm (dpa, AFP) (DW)