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Opposition leads Croatian vote
Opposition leads Croatian vote over conservatives
By The Associated Press

ZAGREB, Croatia (AP) ' A center-left opposition coalition likely defeated the incumbent conservatives in Croatia's parliamentary vote, early results showed Sunday, revealing voter anger at corruption and high unemployment.

Complete unofficial poll results published by the independent Ipsos Puls agency and cited on state television suggested the opposition will take 82 seats in Croatia's 151-seat parliament, with the ruling Croatian Democratic Union, or HDZ, taking 40 seats. It said the poll has a 3-percent margin of error.

Incomplete official results appeared to confirm the victory by the "Kukuriku" coalition ' Croatian for the "cock-a-doodle-doo" rooster cry ' citing similar figures with some 20 percent of the votes counted.

The corruption-tainted conservatives were expected to lose the vote over declining living standards and high unemployment in the country, which is slated to become the next EU member in 2013. The winner will be called on to make tough decisions on budget cuts to handle the country's economic downturn.

The country would be the latest in a long list this year to dump incumbents over soaring debt and unemployment.

"The trend in Europe is that the voters are against those who are in power," said political analyst Slaven Letica. "The same happened in Croatia."

If the complete results confirm the victory, the next Croatian prime minister will be Zoran Milanovic, the 45-year-old leader of the Social Democratic Party, the former communists who turned into pro-Western democrats seeking economic and social reforms.

His coming to power could hasten reconciliation with Serbia, Croatia's staunch wartime foe, and help stabilize the still-volatile Balkans. The conservatives played on lingering hatred between the two ex-Yugoslav ethnic groups.

Vesna Pusic, an opposition official said "it's obvious that the Croatians have given us the victory, but let's wait for (complete) official results."

Conservative leader Vladimir Seks questioned the exit polls, but, he admitted his party's defeat was likely "after a negative media campaign we faced" ahead of the vote.

The conservatives have ruled Croatia since its 1990s war for independence from the former Yugoslavia, except for the 2001-2003 period, when the center-left coalition took over.

But they have been embroiled in corruption scandals, including alleged involvement in illegal fundraising for previous elections, that have diminished its popularity. Its former leader and ex-Prime Minister Ivo Sanader is on trial for allegedly pocketing millions in bribes before he abruptly resigned in 2009.

Conservative official Vesna Skare Ozbolt said that the defeat is the result of Sanader's corruption charges.

"Kosor did not lose these elections, Sanader did," Ozbolt said.

Croatia is to sign an accession treaty with the EU next Friday. The country of 4.3 million is on track to join the EU in July 2013 as the bloc's 28th member.


Associated Press writer Dusan Stojanovic contributed to this report.

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