Official results show Social Democrat Ivo Josipovic has won the most votes in the first round of Croatia's presidential election, but not enough for a first round victory. Josipovic will face the controversial mayor of the capital Zagreb in a run-off election next month.
Croatia's electoral commission says Social Democrat candidate Ivo Josipovic won the most votes in the first round of Croatia's presidential poll with more than 32 percent of the vote.
His main opponent, the controversial mayor of Zagreb Milan Bandic, came in second with nearly 15 percent of the ballots.
The men will face each other in a final election round on January 10th, since they failed to gain the minimum of 50 percent plus one vote to win outright.
Josipovic's supporters are already celebrating.
They welcome the results as confirmation many people support their candidate's anti-corruption drive. They are also pleased he received the most votes of the 12 candidates running to replace popular President Stipe Mesic.
Mr. Mesic helped discourage nationalism and encouraged a shift to the West with his country's entry into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, earlier this year.
But he failed to achieve Croatian membership in the European Union, partly because of a border dispute with neighboring Slovenia. There are also Western concerns over high-level corruption in the country.
Josipovic says he wants to tackle crime in the former Yugoslav republic.
Josipovic tells supporters Sunday's vote was between justice or injustice. He says he is thankful to those who saw the light voted for him because, in his words, they "want a better and fairer Croatia" without lawlessness. Josipovic says he is the best candidate to fight Croatia's notorious crime and corruption and to make the Balkan nation a better place to live.
But even his supporters say the 52-year old Josipovic lacks political charisma.
Mayor Bandic is a controversial figure with media reports that he fled police after being caught driving drunk and allegations he fixes bids for city work projects linked to his friends, while overpaying his aids.
But Bandic, who denies the charges, draws enthusiastic crowds.
Mayor Bandic says Croatia needs an independent candidate like himself who, he says, knows the life of ordinary people. He suggests his opponent may just serve the interests of the Social Democrats, who he claims try to have a remote control over the presidency. Bandic claims his experience as Zagreb mayor in the past 10 years shows that he knows what it takes to be president.
Both Bandic and Josipovic want their country to join the European Union by 2012.
Outgoing President Mesic says he is disappointed nearly 60 percent of the country's voters stayed home Sunday.
He says the low turnout was expected as in his words "the campaign was boring". While they agree on E.U. membership, he says, none of the candidates came up with a clear and passionate vision for Croatia's economic recovery."
Analysts say the Balkan country is struggling with its worst economic slump since independence in 1991, as consumption, investments and exports have tumbled.