Croatian parties in tough talks to form government09 november 2015, 16:18
Croatia's political parties faced tough negotiations Monday to cobble together a government after the conservative opposition won a narrow election victory, heightening uncertainty in a country battling the migration crisis and recession, AFP reports.
The tight result means it could take weeks of horse-trading to cobble together a new government following the country's first election since joining the European Union.
The new government will be under pressure to push through reforms in a country slowly emerging from six years of recession and grappling with the transit of tens of thousands of migrants.
Results after nearly 99 percent of votes were counted showed the opposition Patriotic Coalition, led by the HDZ party, taking 59 seats in the 151-seat parliament -- just three more than the centre-left bloc, led by the Social Democrats (SDP), which has ruled for the past four years.
With no outright majority, new political party Most ("Bridge" in Croatian), emerged as a powerful force in national politics, coming third with 19 seats, but its leader repeated a pre-electoral pledge that his party would not enter a coalition.
"Across the Bridge to a new government," declared the front-page headline on largest circulating newspaper, Vecernji list, while the influential daily Jutarnji list said: "Most decides on a new government".
According to the constitution, the president must consult parliamentary parties and nominate a prime minister-designate who has the support of the majority of MPs.
With 70 percent of votes counted in the early hours, HDZ leader and ex-spy chief Tomislav Karamarko toasted success and declared victory to his supporters.
"We won the parliamentary elections... The victory brought us responsibility to lead our country, which is in a difficult situation," he told cheering fans.
But the latest tally makes the outcome more complicated, increasing the possibility that the SDP, despite winning fewer seats, could unite with smaller parties to try and form a government.
Defiant Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic of the SDP called on Most to form a coalition with his centre-left bloc as the results came in, telling his supporters: "We cannot go it alone and we need partners."
Milanovic, elected in 2011, campaigned this time with the slogan "Croatia is Growing" after a slight return to economic expansion this year, but he has disappointed voters by failing to reform the public sector and boost the business climate in the country of 4.2 million people.
Croatia is the newest member of the European Union, having joined in 2013, and it remains one of the bloc's poorest-performing economies.
Public debt stands at nearly 90 percent of gross domestic product and unemployment was at 16.2 percent in September -- 43.1 percent among youths.
'Cut off from the people'
Ahead of the vote, the premier appeared to be buoyed by his handling of the migrant crisis, which has seen nearly 350,000 people passing through Croatia on their way to northern Europe since mid-September.
But the economy remained the biggest issue on people's minds and both main political camps lacked solid campaign pledges to reform, analysts said.
The unexpected success of the Most party showed that voters "do not want this kind of two-party system... they do not want political elites that have started to become a separate world cut off from the people", political analyst Davor Gjenero told AFP.
The HDZ was ousted four years ago amid a series of unprecedented scandals involving its former leader and ex-prime minister Ivo Sanader.
If it forms a government, the party could take a harder line on the influx of migrants, having accused the government of lacking control over the flow of people since the crisis spread into Croatia, when Hungary closed its border withSerbia.
But its election campaign focused on patriotic rhetoric glorifying its founder, the autocratic Franjo Tudjman, who led the former Yugoslav republic throughout its 1990s war of independence until his death in 1999.