Croatians around the world symbolically ahead of time
(Voting day earlier)
The Croatian Diaspora votes in 50 countries at 155 polling stations
Croatians abroad vote in elections to decide country's path to EU
22 November 2003
Croatians living abroad on Saturday cast ballots one day ahead of their fellow citizens in a crucial parliamentary election that will decide who will lead the former Yugoslav republic into the European Union.
Croatia applied for EU membership in February and is hoping to join along with Bulgaria and Romania in 2007.
Public opinion polls suggest a nail-biting race between the incumbent coalition made up of pro-western moderates and the nationalist opposition in the parliamentary election.
A total of 399,849 Croatians, most of them living in neighboring Bosnia-Herzegovina and who have been traditionally allied with nationalists, are to elect up to 12 deputies, depending on turnout, during voting held on Saturday and Sunday.
In the incumbent 151-seat parliament, Croats with no permanent residence in Croatia had six deputies, all nationalists.
The Croatian Diaspora votes in 50 countries at 155 polling stations in the third such ballot since Croatia proclaimed independence from the former Yugoslavia in 1991. Croats living abroad voted for the first time in 1995 polls.
The largest number of polling stations -- 30 -- opened at 7:00 amin neighbouring Bosnia, home to some 300,000 Croats with dual citizenship who are entitled to vote in the Croatian polls.
Most of the people standing in a queue in front of the Croatian embassy in Sarajevo, who arrived from all across Bosnia, said they wanted to vote out the current moderate leaders in Croatia.
"We expect something better. We must replace those who lead us to ruin," said Ivanka Juric from the central town of Zenica.
"I expect new authorities to support Bosnian Croats much more than those who are in power now," Josip, a 50-year-old from Sarajevo, told AFP.
Croatia's former ruling nationalists backed Croat separatists during Bosnia's 1992-95 war, including the formation of their self-styled statelet known as "Herceg-Bosna."
Relations between Zagreb and Sarajevo have significantly improved since 2000, when a center-left alliance formed a government in Croatia and stopped meddling in Bosnia's internal affairs.
Croatian financing for ethnic Croat forces in Bosnia was diverted to cultural and other peaceful activities, and in 2001 Zagreb clearly condemned fresh Bosnian Croat attempts to set up an autonomous zone in the mountainous Balkan republic.
The next government is likely to be a coalition as no party is expected to win a majority in parliament.
In the previous election in January 2000, the center-left coalition, led by Prime Minister Ivica Racan's Social Democrats (SDP), inflicted a crushing defeat to the nationalist Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), on a platform that called for anchoring Croatia to Europe.
The moderates' 2000 election triumph was a milestone for Croatia after a decade of authoritarian policies under former president Franjo Tudjman, who died in December 1999.
Copyright © 2003 AFP. All other copyright © 2003 EUbusiness Ltd.