Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic becomes Croatia’s first female president

By bne IntelliNews January 12, 2015

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Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, the representative of Croatia’s main opposition party, the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), won the second round of the presidential elections on January 11, gaining 50.74% support against incumbent President Ivo Josipovic, according to preliminary results from the State Electoral Commission (DIP) after 99.98% of polling stations had reported their results. The falling support for Josipovic, who managed to grab 49.26% of the votes, reflects the country’s poor economic performance, as his term coincided with a severe six-year recession.

Grabar-Kitarovic, a former assistant secretary general for public diplomacy at Nato and a European integration minister, will be Croatia’s first female president.

Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic’s electoral platform was mainly focused on economic growth as key to development. She is in favour of social stability and declared no tolerance of corruption. She is also a defender of national security and war veterans rights.

A total of 2.2mn of the 3.8mn Croats who were eligible to vote for president cast their vote in the runoff. Grabar-Kitarovic won the elections by a slight margin of around 32,000 votes.

Grabar-Kitarovic came second in the first round of the presidential election on December 28 with 37.22% support, while Josipovic gained then 38.46% of the votes. The result was however a surprise as polls had indicated Josipovic would have a bigger advantage. The high level of support for third placed Ivan Sincic, a 25-year activist supported by an association fighting forced evictions, showed Croatia’s disillusionment not just with the ruling Social Democratic Party (SDP), which backed Josipovic, but with the entire political establishment. Sincic, who focused his campaign on attacks on the main political parties as well as the EU and Nato, was voted by 16.4% of the Croats in the first round of the elections.

The presidential election also served as a test for Croatia’s political parties before the  general elections expected in the second half of the year. The lengthy recession in the country and no optimistic prospects on the short term have deteriorated people’s support for the SDP. On the other hand, Grabar-Kitarovic’s victory might suggest that HDZ could return to power at the end of the year. HDZ also won the elections for the European Parliament in May last year.

Commenting on Grabar-Kitarovic’s victory, Croat Foreign Minister Vesna Pusnic said that as president elect she should change the rhetoric of extreme nationalism she used during her electoral campaign. Vesna called it one of division, which was a return to the 1990s and added that Croatia needs a president who will keep the country together, according to Hina news agency.

Croatia has been struggling with recession for six years. The IMF and the European Commission expect the country's economy to return to modest growth this year. However, some economists have predicted a seventh consecutive year of recession for the Adriatic country. Moreover, Croatia, the newest member of the European Union, is facing high unemployment The European Commission said in its November forecast it sees Croatia’s jobless rate rising to 17.7% in 2014 from 17.3% in 2013 - and stagnating at 17.7% in 2015.

The president of Croatia is elected for a five-year term and the tenure is limited to two terms. The president represents the country and acts on its behalf at home and abroad and ensures the regular and orderly functioning and stability of the government. The president is also the commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces and is responsible for the defence of the independence and territorial integrity of the country.

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