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Croatia, conservative Grabar Kitarovic new president

After close win against outgoing head of State Josipovic

12 January, 11:19

by Franko Dota


(ANSA) - ZAGREB - The conservative Grabar Kitarovic will be the new president of Croatia. The former diplomat scored a close win - by a few thousand votes - in a runoff against outgoing president Ivo Josipovic. The victory leads to an important turnover not just in the country's highest institutional position but also a change nobody could have predicted a few weeks ago, which takes the right to the presidency for the first time since 1999. Few believed a woman, a diplomat with an international career, and a conservative, could stand a chance against the popular outgoing head of State, Ivo Josipovic. But Grabar Kitarovic surprised everybody when she won, though by a very small margin, with 50.4% of the vote, with a difference of just 0.8%, or 17,300 votes. Josipovic left his post at the end, visibly disappointed and bitter. But the outcome of these elections was apparently determined not by the choice between the candidates' programs and promises but rather the state of Croatia's economy, which has been in recession for six years, with unemployment at 20% and a public debt reaching 80% of GDP.

Josipovic paid the price for widespread dissatisfaction from his center-left people, over the work of the Social Democratic government. The idea that change can provide an opportunity for recovery played in favor of the opposition's contender, in spite of the fact that the head of State in Croatia has no powers in the economic sector. Turnout was high, mostly thanks to a heated electoral campaign and an eve full of expectations: 59% of the country's 3.8 million voters cast their ballots, well over the 47% of the first round. Grabar Kitarovic, 46, a Catholic and moderate conservative, promised more ''patriotism and respect for traditional values'', as well as a much more dynamic presidential style that will also be critical towards the government. After she will be sworn in mid February, Croatia will experience a difficult cohabitation, which is likely to lead to heated debates between Prime Minsiter Zoran Milanovic, known for his harsh style, and Grabar Kitarovic who will want to impose her role on the domestic political scenario, from which she has been absent for almost seven years after serving as ambassador in Washington from 2008 and subsequently, from 2011, as joint secretary of Nato for public diplomacy. After a university degree in English and Spanish language and literature, and a master's degree in international relations, Grabar Kitarovic worked from 1993 at the foreign ministry, and then became foreign minister from 2004 until 2008 under Premier Ivo Sanader, who is today detained for a number of corruption cases - a connection that has cast a shadow on her public persona. Her election will also have an important symbolic impact on Croatian internal dynamics. It means her party, Hdz, has paid the price for previous mistakes and that the center-right in Croatia can again eye with hope political elections to be held within a year. (ANSA).

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