Croatia's ruling HDZ takes lead in parliamentary elections

Zoran Milanovic during the campaign

With nearly three-fourths of ballots counted, the conservatives of the Croatian Democratic Union (Hdz) of Plenkovic obtained 61 MPs out of the 151-seat one-chamber Parliament of Zagreb, remaining the country's leading party.

MOST, a center-right coalition, has come third with 13 seats, followed by an alliance gathered around the anti-establishment party Living Wall (8 seats).

Political deadlock has delayed reforms that are necessary for Croatia to catch up with the rest of the EU. The first preliminary official results are expected around 10 pm (2000 GMT), but exit polls after the end of the vote may prove a good indicator.

Most, which was headed for 12 seats, has said implementing its liberal reforms is its pre-condition for entering a coalition.

Under former Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic, the SDP hopes to wrest control from the short-lived technocratic government, but the HDZ hopes a new leader, European Parliamentarian Andrej Plenkovic, can make up lost ground and renew the coalition.

HDZ won 61 seats in Sunday's ballot while their centre-left opposition rivals, the Social Democrats (SDP), took 54, according to complete results.

The election was the second in less than a year after the previous barely functioning coalition government led by the HDZ collapsed in June over a conflict of interest scandal after just five months in power.

A Serbian court has also rehabilitated an infamous ultra-nationalist from the second World War period, and the country's current prime minister and president were allies of warmongering leader Slobodan Milosevic in the 1990s.

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The parliamentary parties were given 30 days to gather a new majority, but deteriorating relations between MOST and HDZ led to the dissolution of parliament in July, paving the way for early elections.

The turnout was only 52.38 per cent, according to the State Electoral Commission, which means that of 3.8 million registered voters, only 1.9 million cast ballots.

HDZ and the Social Democrats have been the two dominant parties in Croatia since the country split from former Yugoslavia in 1991. "We can't complain later if the outcome of the election is not the way we want it to be".

Croatia, the newest European Union member, is struggling with one of the EU's weakest economies, including low annual growth and high unemployment.

"I think we are moving toward a better future for Croatia", Micic said.

"This is not a new trend, the right-wingers winning", said Ljerka Kavoci, a Zagreb resident.

After suffering prolonged recession before and after joining the European Union in 2013, Croatia is now showing signs of a return to modest growth, but much of the economy remains moribund and unemployment is stuck at about 14 per cent.