Croatia Chooses News President

In a run-off vote Croatians are to choose their next president. The candidates are Ivo Josipovic, a law professor from the main opposition Social Democrats, and populist Zagreb mayor Milan Bandic, first-round results showed Monday.

Josipovic of the Social Democrats (SDP) garnered 32.44 percent of the vote, more than double the score of former party colleague turned independent Bandic, who took 14.84 percent, results from nearly all polling stations showed.

"I call all voters to cast ballots for justice, a better and more rightful Croatia, for the light and not for the darkness," in the January 10 run-off, Josipovic said after results from Sunday's vote were announced.

The 52-year-old legal expert and classical music composer ran his campaign under the slogan "Justice for Croatia" insisting on the need to fight corruption, AFP reports.

Meanwhile, t he government forecast gross domestic product to expand an annual 0.5 percent in 2010 as demand in the EU rebounds. GDP is set to shrink about 6 percent this year, according to the central bank.

“The presidential race should have no big impact on the local financial markets,” said Zdeslav Santic, the chief economist at Societe Generale SA’s unit in Zagreb, in an e- mailed statement today. “The influence of the president over the economy is minimal, but the most important thing is that none of the relevant candidates were opposing EU membership.”

Crobex, the Croatian benchmark index of 24 most-traded stocks, was little changed at 1987.12 points at 12:30 pm in Zagreb. The country’s currency kuna dropped 0.14 percent to trade at 7.3154 versus the euro at 12:30 in Zagreb, BusinessWeek reports .

It was also reported, b oth candidates are considered pro-Western and will likely support the ex-Yugoslav country's efforts to win entry into the European Union, possibly in 2011 or 2012.

Both Josipovic and Bandic are linked to the Social Democrats - Bandic, a popular mayor of the capital since 2000, was kicked out of the party when he decided to run against Josipovic. But, they have very different styles. Josipovic, 52, is well-educated and preaches honesty and justice. Bandic, 54, a populist whose stand shifts across the political spectrum, is believed to manoeuvre around regulations to get the job done. He has repeatedly been accused of cronyism and nepotism - he doesn't speak English and hasn't showed much knowledge or interest in foreign affairs.

Though the president's power is largely ceremonial and the cabinet and parliament are the key decision-makers, the president is the army's supreme commander and has strong influence over foreign policy. The post also commands moral authority.

The results showed that "justice has won," Josipovic said after the vote, The Press Association reports.

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