Exit poll: Opposition leads Croatian vote

December 4, 2011 - 2:55 PM
Croatia Elections

Opposition leader Zoran Milanovic casts his ballot at a polling station in Zagreb, Croatia, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2011. Croatians are voting in an election that is expected to unseat the conservative government ahead of the country's entry into the European Union. (AP Photo/Darko Bandic)

ZAGREB, Croatia (AP) — A center-left opposition coalition was ahead of the incumbent conservatives in Croatia's parliamentary vote, an exit poll said Sunday, reflecting voter anger at corruption and high unemployment.

The poll published by the independent Ipsos Puls agency and cited on state television suggested the opposition will take 83 seats in Croatia's 151-seat parliament, with the ruling Croatian Democratic Union, or HDZ, taking 40 seats. It said the poll has a 3-percent margin of error.

The corruption-tainted conservatives were expected to lose the vote over declining living standards and high unemployment in the country, which is slated to become the next EU member country in 2013.

The country is preparing to join the EU as the bloc faces a broader debt crisis; whoever wins will be called on to make tough decisions on budget cuts to handle the country's economic downturn.

The conservatives' popularity plummeted over corruption scandals and mismanaging of the economy. The country would be the latest in a long list this year to dump incumbents over soaring debt and unemployment.

Vesna Pusic, an opposition official from the "Kukuriku" coalition — Croatian for the "cock-a-doodle-doo" rooster cry — said "it's obvious that the Croatians have given us the victory, but let's wait for official results."

Official results are expected later Sunday.

Conservative leader Vladimir Seks question the exit polls, but, he admitted his party's defeat was likely "after a negative media campaign we faced" ahead of the vote.

The conservatives have ruled Croatia since its 1990s war for independence from the former Yugoslavia, except for the 2001-2003 period, when the center-left coalition took over.

But they have been embroiled in corruption scandals, including alleged involvement in illegal fundraising for previous elections, that have diminished its popularity. Its former leader and ex-Prime Minister Ivo Sanader is on trial for allegedly pocketing millions in bribes before he abruptly resigned in 2009.

Croatia is to sign an accession treaty with the EU next Friday. The country of 4.3 million is on track to join the EU in July 2013 as the bloc's 28th member.

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Associated Press writer Dusan Stojanovic contributed to this report.