The Baltic hotspot hopes to lift border closures in time for peak holiday season.
The ruling conservatives overwhelmingly won Croatia’s parliamentary elections amid a spike in new coronavirus cases, with smaller right-wing parties also picking up seats.
With more than 90 percent of the vote counted on Sunday night, the governing Croatian Democratic Union, or HDZ, had won 66 seats in Croatia’s 151-seat parliament and is likely to form a new coalition government with smaller right-wing groups.
Andrej Plenkovic, the acting prime minister and HDZ leader, praised what he described as a “great result and a great victory.”
“Such a result for the HDZ, which is our victory, is not only great, but an obligation,” Plenkovic said. “It is an obligation because we had a tough mandate full of challenges behind us, and challenges ahead of us are even bigger.”
An alliance led by the liberal Social Democratic Party, or SDP, the main opposition party, came in second with 41 seats.
SDP leader Davor Bernardic conceded defeat and suggested he would resign the leadership.
“Of course, this is a bad result and I’m ready to go,” he said.
Initial results also showed that the right-leaning nationalist and eurosceptic bloc Domovinski Pokret (Homeland Movement), led by popular singer Miroslav Skoro, came third with at least 16 seats followed by the conservative Most (Bridge) party with eight seats and leftist Mozemo (We Can) with six seats.
The Homeland Movement was recently formed and swiftly gained popularity despite public outrage over some of its staunchly hard-line and nationalist views. The party is believed to have chipped away some of the votes from HDZ, which has dominated the political scene in Croatia since gaining independence from Serb-led Yugoslavia in 1991.
Croatia has faced a surge in coronavirus cases that followed the reopening of the country’s borders and its easing of lockdown rules, and is struggling to salvage its main source of revenue – tourism along the Adriatic Sea coast.
The election turnout was 46 percent, the lowest in the post-independence era.
There was no social distancing or mask wearing during the victory celebrations by ruling party officials and party supporters.
A country of 4.2 million people, Croatia has kept the coronavirus outbreak largely under control, reporting 113 deaths and around 3,100 confirmed infections. But Plenkovic has been criticised over an outbreak at a tennis tournament organised by top-ranked Novak Djokovic in the coastal town of Zadar.
About 3.8 million people were eligible to vote. Voters were advised to take their own temperatures and stay away from polling stations if they had a fever.
The new government will have an uphill task to keep a grip on the coronavirus while trying to restore the economy, which is expected to shrink about 10 percent this year. Tourism revenues are forecast to slump 70 percent.