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Croatian President Facing a Runoff

January 03, 2005|From Associated Press

ZAGREB, Croatia — Croatia's pro-Western president failed to win an outright majority for reelection Sunday, forcing him to face a runoff vote in two weeks.

President Stipe Mesic got 49.03% of the vote -- just short of the majority needed to win a second term, the Electoral Commission said after more than 99% of the votes were counted. His main rival, Jadranka Kosor of the Croatian Democratic Union, which has a majority in parliament and controls the prime ministership, had 20%. Both strongly support Croatia's efforts to join the European Union this decade.

The 70-year-old incumbent declared the results a "brilliant victory" and voiced confidence that he would win the runoff Jan. 16.

"I led Croatia to the doors of [mainstream] Europe, and I will lead it into it," Mesic said, to euphoric cheers from his supporters.

Kosor, 51, also expressed confidence.

"There's something else that makes me happy -- a woman is in the runoff," she said. "I'm sure Croatia is mature enough to finally have a female president."

Kosor is a deputy prime minister to Prime Minister Ivo Sanader. She is a former journalist responsible in the government for families and war veterans, but is seen as lacking popular appeal and a strong political personality.

Kosor and Sanader's Croatian Democratic Union returned to power a year ago and has distanced itself from its once hard-line nationalist stance to become a European-style conservative party.

The president is elected to a five-year term and has limited influence, as the prime minister and parliament exercise most decision-making powers. Croats apparently didn't see the vote as so crucial -- just over 50% of 4.4 million eligible voters took part.

For the first time, no international observers monitored the vote, an indication of the former Yugoslav republic's democratic progress since it declared independence in 1991 and fought a war with its rebel Serbs.

Mesic won overwhelming support in 2000 to replace autocratic Franjo Tudjman, who had died two months before.

The incumbent is credited by many for upholding democratic standards and backing reforms. But he has made enemies among nationalists, who consider him a traitor for insisting that any Croat who committed war crimes should be punished.

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