ZAGREB, Croatia (AP) — Ruling conservatives have scored a victory in Croatia's snap national election and now face a tough task of forming a coalition government after disillusioned voters again failed to produce a clear winner.
Complete results reported Monday by Croatia's state electoral commission showed that the Croatian Democratic Union, or HDZ, won 61 seats in the 151-member parliament, while the left-leaning Peoples' Coalition won 54 in Sunday's vote.
The third-placed Most, or Bridge, party is a likely kingmaker in the future coalition government with 13 seats. The biggest surprise was Zivi Zid, or Human Shield populist group, which has emerged from anti-government protests. It won eight seats but has ruled out joining a coalition government.
The snap vote was called after the previous conservative-led coalition government collapsed in June, triggering the biggest political turmoil in the nation of 4.2 million people since it joined the European Union in 2013. With no party winning a majority in the weekend vote, the deadlock that has stalled much-needed social and economic reforms in is likely to continue.
Political analyst Zarko Puhovski said there was no doubt that HDZ will form the new government with right-wing Most — just as the two parties did after the previous election in November.
"That government will be formed, but it is not clear for how long it will last," Puhovski said.
In a sign of voter disillusionment, turnout was 53 percent, down nearly 10 percentage points from the previous vote. Also, many voters apparently turned away from HDZ and Social Democrats — the leading party in the Peoples' Coalition — who intermittently ruled the country since it split from former Yugoslavia in 1991, triggering a civil war that killed some 10,000 people and left hundreds of thousands homeless.
Andrej Plenkovic, a European parliamentarian who has assumed HDZ leadership only months before the vote and shifted it toward the center, said Monday that talks with potential coalition partners will start in the coming days.
"It is now up to us to bring stability into the Croatian state and institutions," Plenkovic said. "I believe we are doing good things for Croatia and that as time passes, others will realize that too."
The vote results represent a huge blow for Zoran Milanovic, leader of the left-leaning Social Democrats who had been considered clear favorites. There were signs of discontent within party ranks with Milanovic's pre-election tactics.
Milanovic campaigned on ultra-nationalist rhetoric, trying to lure conservative voters to his side. But, his populist tone has only scared away minorities and pro-left voters in Croatia and has brought the country's relations with neighboring Serbia to the lowest point since they fought the war in the 1990s.
Like many other central European states, Croatia had tilted to the right under the previous HDZ-led government.
"This is not a new trend, the right-wingers winning," said Ljerka Kavoci, a Zagreb resident. "It is a trend that is hanging over Croatia since the war. It was calm for some years, but now it's out there again."
AP Writer Dusan Stojanovic contributed from Belgrade, Serbia.