Results showed a lack of outright victories in the first round, particularly in most major cities. And election monitors reported violations of the election-day campaigning ban at polling stations.
By Natasa Radic for Southeast European Times in Zagreb -- 21/05/09
Croatians voted in local and regional elections Sunday (May 17th). [Getty Images]
After polling stations closed Sunday (May 17th) in the local elections, early results showed that only in Rijeka, among bigger cities, did voters elect a mayor in the first round. In Croatia's other cities, no candidate was able to win outright.
There were a total of 1.9 million ballots cast. For the first time since Croatia's independence in 1991, voters directly elected 866 members of 21 county assemblies, 2,206 members of 126 city and town councils and 5,343 members of 427 municipal councils. A total of 46,325 candidates ran in the elections.
The initial official results showed that the ruling Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) won elections in 14 counties. However, it failed to win outright in the four largest cities -- Zagreb, Split, Rijeka and Osijek.
The opposition Social Democratic Party (SDP) won in five counties and managed to retain the mayoralty of Rijeka in the first round. Two SDP candidates will enter the second round in races for the country's two largest cities, Zagreb and Split.
With voters choosing their own municipal leaders for the first time, they apparently focused on candidates' achievements and political agendas, rather than following the tradition of looking at party identification first.
Moreover, independent candidates campaigned without the backing of party apparatuses -- considered in the past essential for winning -- especially in the larger cities. The independents were particularly successful in Zagreb and Split.
In Zagreb, SDP-affiliated Mayor Milan Bandic failed to break the 50% mark necessary for a first-round victory, underperforming pre-election polls. He grabbed 48.54% of the vote. His rival, previously obscure university professor and independent Josip Kregar, won 23.18%.
In Split, controversial businessman and first-time candidate Zeljko Kerum polled 40.21%, while the runner-up, SDP candidate Ranko Ostojic, won 34.72%.
In Osijek, Kresimir Bubalo, a member of convicted war criminal Branimir Glavas's Croatian Democratic Party of Slavonia and Baranja (HDSSB), won 38.71% of the vote, while Croatian Party of Rights (HSP) President Anto Djapic scored 22.94%, which he admitted was a "poor result".
After the national electoral commission verifies the results, the second round of voting kicks off on May 31st.
GONG, a Croatian election-monitoring NGO, deployed 700 monitors. GONG said it received over 250 complaints mostly, but not exclusively, about party activists breaking the election-day ban on campaigning and attempting to influence or threaten voters at or around polling stations. It reported several instances of violence.