Opposition lawyer wins Croatia presidential runoff, exit polls show

According to exit polls, Social Democrat law professor, Ivo Josipovic, won more than 60 percent of the vote in Sunday's runoff against Milan Bandic, the populist mayor of Croatia's capital, Zagreb.

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    Croatian presidential candidate Ivo Josipovic of Social Democrats gestures, after receiving exit polls results at his campaign headquarters in Zagreb, Croatia, Sunday.
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Croatian voters have firmly decided in favor of Social Democrat law professor, Ivo Josipovic, as Croatia's third president, according to exit polls.

Mr. Josipovic won more than 60 percent of the vote in Sunday's runoff against Milan Bandic, the populist mayor of Croatia's capital, Zagreb, who left the opposition Social Democrats to campaign as an independent.

"We expected to win, but not by such a margin," said Igor Dragovan, secretary general of the Social Democratic party.

The mood in the Bandic camp was subdued, but campaign director Dusko Ljustina said he would not concede defeat until the count was completed in full.

Mr. Bandic improved on his 14.8 percent share in the 12-way first round contest to take 35.4 percent, according to exit polls, but was unsuccessful in mobilizing the mass of less well-educated voters he needed for victory.

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Low turnout

Turnout was only fractionally higher than in the first round, when it was at an all time low of 44 percent.

Outgoing president Stipe Mesic, of the minor Croatian People's Party, gave Josipovic explicit support, and the candidate of the ruling, conservative HDZ party, Andrija Hebrang, dropped out after the first round having won just 12.1 percent of the vote.

Although Josipovic is from the opposition, Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor and the rest of the HDZ party elite will be quietly breathing a sigh of relief at his victory, says analyst Zarko Puhovski.

A largely ceremonial role

The president's constitutional powers are limited to a say in foreign affairs and control of the security services. But the opinion of a directly-elected figurehead still carries considerable weight.

Some felt the outspoken Bandic could have proved a nuisance for a government focused on gaining approval to join the European Union.

Also troubling for pro-EU Croats was Bandic's sympathy for the creation of a political "third entity" in Bosnia, where he was born.

Many Bosnian Croats would prefer to break away from the Federation they share with the majority Muslim population. Bosnian Serbs already largely govern their own affairs in the Republic of Srpska.

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