Antonio Bronic / Reuters

Croatia's conservatives win victory in general election

Coalition talks likely after conservative Croatian Democratic Union failed to win an outright majority

Croatia's conservative opposition has won the Balkan country's first parliamentary election since joining the European Union in 2013, but without enough votes to rule alone.

The vote was held amid deep economic woes and a massive surge of refugees.

The state electoral commission said Monday that with 99 percent of the vote counted, the conservatives, led by former intelligence chief Tomislav Karamarko, won 59 seats in the 151-seat parliament. The ruling Social Democrats, led by incumbent Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic, got 56 seats.

The result means both blocs have failed to win an outright majority and the forming of the new government will depend on several small parties that entered parliament. The kingmaker will be the third-placed party, Most, or Bridge, with 19 seats.

"We have won," said Karamarko, leader of the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ). "The party which has won the most number of votes must lead Croatia in the future."

However, Milanovic called on Most, the new group of citizens without clear political stands, to start talks on a new coalition.

"Croatia has decided for a change," Milanovic said. "We cannot do it alone."

Sunday's vote represented a revival for Karamarko's conservative HDZ, which led Croatia during its war for independence from the Serb-led Yugoslavia in the 1990s and then dominated its political scene for years. Its popularity plummeted after a series of corruption trials against top officials.

The vote also may mean refugees will face a tougher time in Croatia because the HDZ wants stricter border controls to manage the flow of people crossing the small Adriatic state of 4.4 million.

Some 338,000 refugees have passed through Croatia since mid-September, crossing the border from Serbia at a daily rate of 5,000 or sometimes 10,000. Few linger in Croatia, one of the poorest EU states where unemployment is at 16 percent, well above the bloc's 9 percent average.

Driven largely by economic concerns, the election in Croatia follows other recent anti-refugee and anti-asylum seeker votes in Europe.

In a landmark victory by opposition conservatives in Poland last month, the Polish Law and Justice party pledged to oppose mandatory quotas for relocation of migrants within the EU and echoes the HDZ's nationalist undertones.

Also last month, the anti-immigration Swiss People's Party (SVP) won the biggest share of the vote in the national parliamentary elections, keeping pressure on Bern to introduce quotas on people moving from the European Union.

Wire services

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