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Leftist challenger Zoran Milanovic has won Croatia’s presidential election, defeating the conservative incumbent, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic.

Milanovic, a former prime minister, took 53 percent of the vote in the January 5 election, with 99 percent of the vote counted. Grabar-Kitarovic, the candidate of the ruling center-right Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), got 47 percent.

The presidency is mostly a ceremonial post, but experts say that Grabar-Kitarovic’s election defeat could mean trouble for HDZ’s moderate prime minister, Andrej Plenkovic, in next year’s general elections.

The HDZ has led the country for most of the time since independence in 1991.

Grabar-Kitarovic finished second to Milanovic in a field of 11 candidates in the December 22 first round of voting. Milanovic received 29.56 percent and Grabar-Kitarovic 26.7 percent.

The runoff vote occurred days after Zagreb took over the European Union’s rotating presidency for a six-month term likely to be highlighted by the drive for membership by some of Croatia’s fellow Western Balkan states.

Plenkovic on January 2 said his country would work to help “unblock the process” surrounding EU membership talks with Albania and North Macedonia while it holds the EU presidency.

France and the Netherlands have halted the opening of membership talks with the two small countries, sparking disappointment in the Western Balkans as Russia and China vie for influence in the volatile region.

Based on reporting by dpa, AFP, AP, and Reuters