Croatia: Opposition member wins presidential vote

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ZAGREB, Croatia (AP) — Legal scholar and leftist opposition candidate Ivo Josipovic won Croatia’s presidential elections, upsetting the capital’s popular mayor and confirming the country’s pro-Western course.

The state-run Electoral Commission said Monday Social Democrat Josipovic had 60.29 percent of the vote compared with 39.71 percent for Zagreb Mayor Milan Bandic, with 99.6 percent of the vote counted.

Comparing his election to a “victorious symphony,” Josipovic — who also is a classical music composer — said that “every citizen who aims for a better, more just Croatia has won.”

Bandic congratulated Josipovic and said he’s going back to work at the city council on Monday.

Though the presidential role is somewhat limited in Croatia, the vote was seen as a test on whether Croatia would maintain its pro-Western course and fight against corruption.

In Croatia, the cabinet and parliament are the key decision-makers, but the president is the supreme army commander, co-creator of foreign policy and hires and fires chiefs of intelligence services.

Josipovic’s victory is also a boost for opposition Social Democrats, who only ruled from 2000 to 2003 and sets up a possible showdown with the government over how to battle corruption and revive the economy, though Josipovic is expected to support the government’s push to join the European Union in 2012.

Both Josipovic and Bandic had pledged to nurture good relations with Washington and Brussels, though Bandic’s backers include rightists and nationalists who detest the government’s pro-Western course. Bandic had campaigned as a patriot, tapping into the traditional rivalry with Serbia that erupted during the war for independence from Yugoslavia, and some worried that he could challenge the country’s EU goal.

“The vote was a referendum on whether Croatians want a European, modern Croatia, or the other one,” Josipovic’s campaign manager Mirando Mrsic said.

Analysts said Josipovic won points by vowing to bring justice and root out corruption among officials — promises that resonated with Croats who are disappointed with the government’s stumbling efforts to revive the economy and fight graft in the nation of 4.5 million that gained independence in 1991.

A new face in politics, Josipovic also appealed to voters tired of politics as usual. But voters supporting the country’s EU aspirations were also keen to keep any obstacles out of office.

Josipovic “will cooperate with (Prime Minister) Jadranka Kosor, but he won’t abandon his critical review of her Cabinet’s work,” Social Democratic colleague Milanka Opacic said. “He will primarily take care of the citizens and how the economic situation can be improved.”

Josipovic — a 52-year-old music composer as well as an international law professor at the Zagreb Law Faculty — left politics in 1994 to pursue legal and music career, but returned seven years ago, becoming a national lawmaker. He has an untainted resume, but even his supporters say he lacks charisma.

Final turnout was 50 percent.