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Croatia's right-wing coalition wins first EU vote

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Croatia's opposition right-wing coalition won most seats in the country's first vote for the European Parliament, marked by a low turnout suggesting a lack of enthusiasm for EU membership due on July 1, preliminary results showed Monday.

The ruling Social Democrats (SDP) and their two junior partners, tipped by pre-vote surveys to win most of the 12 seats, finished second followed by the opposition Labour Party, the results based on votes from almost 98 percent of polling stations showed.

The right-wing coalition, led by the main opposition conservative HDZ, won 32.94 percent of the votes, results published on the electoral commission website showed.

The result secures them six seats in the Strasbourg-based parliament. The centre-left SDP which won 31.87 percent would get five seats and the Labour Party, with 5.75 percent, the remaining one.

Sunday's elections were marked by a low turnout of 20.79 percent, although officials in the former Yugoslav republic had insisted that the vote was "historic" and a key milestone on a path marked by years of difficult reforms.

"These are the first European elections in Croatia's history," Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic told reporters after casting his ballot in the capital Zagreb.

Turnout was less than half the figure registered during the referendum held in January 2012 to decide on Croatia's EU membership.

At the time the overall turnout was 44 percent, with 66 percent of Croatians casting a 'Yes' vote. The state is set to become the bloc's 28th member on July 1.

Analysts explained the little interest among the 3.7 million registered voters by people's focus on the sluggish tourism-dependent economy which has not grown since 2009.

Opinion polls show that only a little more than half of Croatians still want their country to become an EU member.

Enthusiasm for membership of the bloc has been dampened by domestic economic woes as well as by the developing debt crisis that has rattled the EU to its core.

Poor interest in Sunday's vote may also have resulted from the apparent failure of politicians to campaign hard on EU-related issues amid rare media debates.

"I back EU entry... but our incapable politicians are not worth my effort of going to a polling station," Dubravka Simac told AFP.

"They didn't even try to explain to people what exactly they will do there (in the parliament)," the 30-year-old saleswoman from Zagreb added, in comments echoed by many in the country.

Interest may also be low because the deputies' mandate will be for only one year, until Europe-wide elections in 2014 to choose a new European Parliament for the following five years.

Davor Brkic voted for SDP candidates since "they are the best solution".

"They inherited a difficult (economic) situation and changes require time," the 58-year-old civil engineer said. The centre-left government took over from the corruption-plagued HDZ in late 2011.

But, Nevenka Banic, a 61-year-old pensioner, backed the HDZ, estimating that "protection of Croatia's national interests would be their priority".

The HDZ party has held power most of the time since independence was achieved through war in the early 1990s.

Croatia will be only the second of six former Yugoslav republics to join the EU, nine years after Slovenia.

The European Parliament's 754 members represent the EU's 500 million citizens.

ljv/gk

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130414/croatias-right-wing-coalition-wins-first-eu-vote