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Croatia elections

Croatian ruling party wins polls, prepares for talks on forming government

Croatian ruling party wins polls, prepares for talks on forming government
Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic from the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) reacts to his victory during the Parliamentary elections, at their head quarters in Zagreb, Croatia, 17 April 2024. Voters in the country are casting their ballots to elect 151 members of Sabor, the Parliament of Croatia. EPA-EFE/ANTONIO BAT

ZAGREB, April 18 (Reuters) - Croatia's long-dominant ruling HDZ party prepared on Thursday for difficult talks to form a coalition after winning Wednesday's parliamentary election without a majority, and with a far-right party as potential kingmakers.

The conservative pro-EU HDZ (Croatian Democratic Union) won 61 seats in the European Union member state’s 151-seat parliament, the latest preliminary results showed, after 99.79% of polling stations had been counted.

A coalition led by the opposition Social Democratic Party (SDP) came in second with 42 seats, a poorer result than expected after President Zoran Milanovic said he would run for the SDP as prime minister in a surprise move.

The HDZ took credit for Croatia entering the EU’s Schengen free travel area and the Eurozone last year and denied opposition allegations of authoritarianism and graft after dominating politics since Socialist Yugoslavia broke up in 1991.

The far-right Homeland Movement took the third place with 14 seats, giving it a decisive role since the HDZ has ruled out working with the main opposition SDP. Homeland has yet to come out with a clear choice which bloc it will join.

“I hope that we shall tailor the fate of Croatia in the days ahead,” Homeland Movement Ivan Penava said, adding the party has pledged not to join either bloc but will consider options.

The party´s main condition is not to join a government that would include the Serb minority party SDSS, and the coalition with green Mozemo party is a “mission impossible”, Penava said.

Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic invited all political parties that are not “exclusive” for talks on the government formation, appearing to refer to the SDP.

Plenkovic said the HDZ could guarantee Croatia’s stability in a challenging geopolitical environment.

The short election campaign was marked by rivalry between Plenkovic and Milanovic, whose disagreements include the conflict in Ukraine and relations with the European Union, with Plenkovic in favour of helping Ukraine and Milanovic against.

Other opposition parties, such as Mozemo and Most, which won 10 and 11 seats respectively, called on all parties to unite against the HDZ.

Citizens of the capital Zagreb on Thursday appeared mainly disappointed with results.

“I expect it will be even worse, it won´t be better for sure,” said Leo, a pensioner, saying his pension of 400 euros could not cover basic costs. “Those who say they are fine, ok, let them dig through the trash, these are the people that mainly voted.”

(Reporting by Fedja Grulovic, Daria Sito-Sucic and Aleksandar Vasovic, writing by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Philippa Fletcher)

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