Croatia opposition set to win vote on economy ticket

Reuters News
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Posted: Dec 03, 2011 6:33 PM
Croatia opposition set to win vote on economy ticket

By Zoran Radosavljevic

ZAGREB (Reuters) - Croatia's center-left opposition looks set to win Sunday's parliamentary election as voters bet the bloc can overhaul the country's floundering economy before it joins the European Union in 2013.

Led by the Social Democrats' (SDP) Zoran Milanovic, the opposition bloc known as Kukuriku ('cock-a-doodle-doo'), has pledged to boost growth in the former Yugoslav republic, create jobs, attract investment and maintain its credit rating.

According to an Ipsos Puls poll Wednesday, the bloc is forecast to win a majority of the 151 parliamentary seats, as voters show their frustration with growing poverty and unemployment under conservative Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor.

His HDZ party, which has dominated Croatian politics since its 1991 independence, is a distant second place in the polls.

"The two things we expect from the new government are to draft a budget that shows fiscal consolidation, otherwise we are threatened with a credit rating cut, and to make a resolute start of the necessary reforms," said Davor Majetic of the national employers' association.

Croatia, a popular tourist destination of 4.3 million people on the Adriatic, has seen its economy boom over the past decade on the back of foreign borrowing, but its growth ground to a halt when the global crisis hit in 2009.

"The real job only begins after the election. Please stay with us when the going gets tough in the next few months. I promise we will not let you down," Milanovic, 45, told supporters at the last rally in Zagreb Friday.

TURNAROUND PROMISED

The former diplomat told Reuters this week the state budget for 2012 would be in place by the end of March and should reflect "how serious we are" about turning the economy around and averting a credit downgrade.

"The rating agencies will give us a grace period of three months at most," he said. "But I believe we can do it."

Unemployment stood at 17.4 percent in October and thousands of employees work without pay. Lack of liquidity has paralyzed many local businesses and overall foreign debt has surpassed 100 percent of gross domestic product.

In power for the past eight years, HDZ has been mired in corruption scandals since its former leader and prime minister, Ivo Sanader, stepped down in 2009. A number of other senior HDZ officials have been arrested or questioned over alleged slush funds in the past year.

Polling stations open at 7 a.m. (0600 GMT) and close at 7 p.m., when exit polls will follow. An official, preliminary count is expected by midnight.

(Editing by Sophie Hares)