Croatian opposition challenger Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic has become the country’s first female president, winning by the narrowest of margins.
Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic secured 50.5% of the vote with 99% of ballots counted, while incumbent Ivo Josipovic was close behind on 49.5%.
IvoJosipovic has conceded defeat and congratulated his opponent.
Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic’s win is a sign that Croatia may be shifting to the right after the centre-left coalition’s failure to end six years of downturn.
The election was seen as a key test for the main parties ahead of parliamentary elections expected to be held towards the end of 2015.
Turnout was 58.9% – some 12% more than in the first round held two weeks ago, which was equally close.
Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, 46, is a politically conservative member of the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), which pushed the country towards independence from the former Yugoslavia in 1991.
She is a former foreign minister and assistant to the NATO secretary general.
“I will not let anyone tell me that Croatia will not be prosperous and wealthy,” Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic told jubilant supporters in the capital Zagreb, calling for national unity to tackle the economic crisis.
Ivo Josipovic, a 57-year-old law expert and classical composer, had been president since 2010.
He had been so popular for so long that it seemed impossible he could fail in a bid for re-election.
His problem was that he was backed by the governing, centre-left coalition that has failed to pull Croatia out of a six-year-long recession.
PM Zoran Milanovic apologized for being a “burden” to the outgoing president. His government may also pay the price in elections later this year.
Croatia, which became the newest member of the European Union when it joined in July 2013, has an unemployment rate close to 20%.
The Croatian president has a say in foreign policy and is head of the army, but running the country is primarily left to the government.
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