Croatia set for three-way presidential race
The election is expected to set up a January 5 runoff with centre-right incumbent Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic facing challenges from either side of the political spectrum.
The polls put her on between 25 and 28 per cent support.
Grabar-Kitarovic has been president since 2015 with the backing of the HDZ, which has led Croatia during most of its years of independence from the former Yugoslav federation in 1991.
She has tried to straddle competing moderate and nationalist wings of the party.
Grabar-Kitarovic was previously foreign minister and assistant secretary-general of Nato.
At Croatia’s defeat in the World Cup final last year, she appeared to strike up a friendly relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom she presented (pictured) with a chequered Croatian football shirt.
The 51-year-old incumbent held her final campaign event in Vukovar, the eastern Croatian town whose prolonged siege by Serbian forces became symbolic of Croatian suffering during the Yugoslav wars.
In a move to the right to compete for nationalist voters, she told supporters that those who fought in the conflict could have no regrets because they created the Croat state.
Grabar-Kitarović has been widely mocked for a number of strange election promises, like the offer of jobs to pay €8,000 a month, nearly 10 times the average wage. Her campaign bus was involved in an accident but left without stopping.
At an earlier event in Zagreb, Grabar-Kitarović said: “We have pulled Croatia out of apathy and gloom. Croatia is no longer on its knees, it’s upright. Croatia is again known in the world for its successes.”
The event was seen as an attempt to challenge the folk singer turned populist politician, Miroslav Skoro.
The independent Skoro, 57, who has been promising to deploy soldiers to stop migrants at the borders and pardon a convicted war criminal.
He is expected to come third with around 24 per cent support.
Centre-left Zoran Milanovic, who was prime minister between 2011-16 with the Social Democratic Party (SDP), has been polling at approximately 26 per cent. The split on the right has made him favourite to top today’s vote for 3.4 million Croats.
The victory is set to be short-lived with polling suggesting that Grabar-Kitarovic would win a January 5 runoff.
There are eight other candidates.
“It is almost certain that Milanovic cannot win in the second round because the left as a whole is weaker than the right,” said analyst Zarko Puhovski.
Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic befriends Russian President Vladimir Putin. Picture credit: Kremlin