ZAGREB, Croatia (AP) — An exit poll cited by Croatian state television shows the center-left opposition coalition ahead of the incumbent conservatives.
The poll published by the independent Ipsos Puls agency says the opposition is taking 83 seats in Croatia's 151-seat parliament. It suggests the ruling Croatian Democratic Union, or HDZ, has won 40 seats.
The corruption-tainted conservatives were expected to be unseated over declining living standards and high unemployment in the country, which is slated to become the next EU member country.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.
ZAGREB, Croatia (AP) — Croatians voted Sunday in a parliamentary election expected to unseat the long dominant, but corruption-tainted conservatives and hand power to a center-left coalition that would face rising discontent over declining living standards and high unemployment.
The country is preparing to join the European Union as the bloc faces a broader debt crisis; whoever wins will be called on to make tough decisions to handle the country's economic downturn.
The vote for Croatia's 151-seat parliament pits the governing center-right Croatian Democratic Union, or HDZ, against a coalition of left-leaning parties. The latter has led recent opinion polls, as HDZ's popularity plummeted over corruption scandals and the high jobless rate.
The country would be the latest in a long list this year to dump incumbents over soaring unemployment.
About 46 percent of voters had cast ballots three hours before polling stations were to close, about two percentage points less than during the previous parliamentary election in 2007, according to the state electoral commission.
Jadranka Kosor, the incumbent prime minister and conservative leader, said she hoped Croatians "will elect those who will continue to wage the relentless battle against corruption — and that I will lead the government when we become an EU member."
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.
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 HDZ has 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.
Kosor has pushed a platform appealing to Croatians' sense of patriotism.
"In the European Union, most of the governments are from the same family of parties as we are, the Christian democratic parties," Kosor told The Associated Press. "That is why it is important that HDZ runs our government once we become an EU member, because it is extremely important that you are among the majority at the table where decisions are made."
Zoran Milanovic, the leader of the center-left so-called "Kurkuriku" coalition — Croatian for the "cock-a-doodle-doo" rooster cry — has run a relatively low-key campaign.
"The easier part is winning the election," Milanovic said. "Reforming the country will be much more difficult."
Associated Press writer Dusan Stojanovic contributed to this report.