Exit polls: Croatia's presidential candidates in close race, runoff needed in 2 weeks

Exit polls from Croatia's presidential elections show the liberal incumbent and a conservative challenger neck-and-neck, facing a showdown in a runoff in two weeks.

Polls released by Croatia's state television after voting closed on Sunday projected that current president Ivo Josipovic, aligned with the dominant party in government, won 38.9 percent while opposition candidate Kolinda Grabar-Kitarevic won 38.1 percent.

Preliminary official results are expected later in the evening.

The presidency in EU's newest member state is a largely ceremonial post, but the vote is seen as a test for the center-left government amid severe economic woes.

Two other candidates were far back in the running.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

Croatia's economic woes hung over presidential elections Sunday in which a liberal incumbent faced pressure from a conservative challenger.

The vote is seen as a test for the center-left government which has come under criticism for its failure to revive the economy more than one year after Croatia joined the EU. Croatia has one of the weakest economies in the bloc, with unemployment at nearly 20 percent and a six-year recession.

Nearly 3.8 million voters can pick from four candidates for the largely ceremonial but influential post. Opinion polls indicate that incumbent Ivo Josipovic, a composer and law expert, will win the most votes but fall short of the 50 percent majority needed for outright victory.

The soft-spoken Josipovic is tipped to face conservative opposition candidate Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, a former foreign minister and an ex-assistant to the NATO secretary general, in the second round in two weeks.

A strong showing for Grabar-Kitarovic would give her Croatian Democratic Union a major boost ahead of parliamentary elections due in about a year.

Voters, who braved a snow blizzard to cast ballots early Sunday, said issues such as unemployment and the fight against corruption will decide the vote, which featured two other candidates including a far-right leader.


Almir Alic contributed.