Croatia elects centre-left challenger Zoran Milanovic as president

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Zoran Milanovic celebrates as results are announced during the run-off of Croatia's presidential election in Zagreb, Croatia, 5 January 2020Image source, Reuters

Croatia's presidential election has been won by centre-left challenger Zoran Milanovic, who defeated the nationalist incumbent.

The social democratic ex-prime minister vowed to heal divisions, and said his victory had brought "hope and faith".

Mr Milanovic beat Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic - a conservative who won the presidency in 2015 - by 53% to 47%.

Croatia's president has a role in foreign policy and security matters but the prime minister runs the country.

Speaking after the result from Sunday's election was announced, Mr Milanovic, 53, said it was time for Croatians to "celebrate together".

"I will not make divisions among the Croatian citizens, especially when it comes to the things they are sensitive about," he said.

During the campaign Mr Milanovic, who served as prime minister from 2011 to 2015, pledged to tackle corruption, which he said had increased since he lost power to the conservatives.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Croatia's outgoing president Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic called for "unity" after the vote

Ms Grabar-Kitarovic, who was elected Croatia's first female president in January 2015, ran a campaign promoting "real Croatia", something that Mr Milanovic said was very dangerous.

She later wished her opponent "every success", adding: "That is in the interest of myself, him and all the children in our country."

Mr Milanovic, who will take office on 19 February, will have a higher profile as president than usual, as Croatia has just taken over the rotating presidency of the EU for six months.

Croatia only became a member of the EU in 2013.

Sunday's presidential election result is a blow to the governing Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) party, appearing to mark a move by voters away from right-wing nationalism.

Parliamentary elections are due to be held later in the year.