Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic and opposition Tomislav Karamarko go to the polls in the country's first parliamentary election since joining the European Union. Rough Cut (no reporter narration).
ROUGH CUT (NO REPORTER NARRATION) Croats began voting on Sunday in a parliamentary election, their first since joining the European Union in 2013, and the winner faces a tough task nurturing a fragile economic recovery and dealing with the large numbers of migrants transiting the country. More than 6,500 polling stations opened across the country while official results will be released at 10 p.m. (2100 GMT). Opinion polls suggest the opposition HDZ-led Patriotic Coalition will win by a narrow margin of about five parliamentary seats, an outcome likely to entail lengthy coalition talks with smaller parties. The conservative coalition favors a tougher stance than its main rival, the ruling Social Democrats, on the migrant issue, seeking stricter border controls to manage the flow of people crossing Croatia on their way to western Europe. More than 330,000 migrants have passed through Croatia since mid-September, part of an exodus of people fleeing conflicts and poverty in Syria, Iraq and beyond. The migrants have been crossing the border from Serbia at a daily rate of 5,000 to 10,000, but few linger in Croatia, one of the poorest EU states where unemployment stands at 16 percent, well above the bloc's average of 9 percent. The nationalist-minded HDZ, which steered Croatia to independence from Serb-dominated Yugoslavia in 1991, has accused the center-left government of Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic of being soft and ineffectual in handling the migrant issue. But political analysts say the HDZ, which plays on issues of national identity and family values in the mainly Catholic nation of 4.4 million people, may struggle to attract sufficient support from smaller parties to build a stable government. This could allow the Social Democrats to hold on to power even if they win fewer votes. The Most Party, which is Croat for "bridge," may, according to the opinion polls, emerge as the third strongest group in the parliament. The party, founded three years ago, says it will press for reforms of a bloated public sector and for a better business climate. Milanovic says his party deserves another four-year mandate because the economy, which is heavily reliant on tourism, has started to grow again after six years of recession that wiped out about 13 percent of national output. The HDZ says it can achieve much faster growth than the current one percent.