Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic’s handling of Croatia’s ongoing migrant influx was put to the test on Sunday as voters headed to the polls for the nation’s first parliamentary elections since joining the European Union in 2013.
The race is tipped to be the closest in the country’s 25-year history as Milanovic and his Social Democratic party (SDP) seek a second term against Tomislav Karamarko’s conservative Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ).
The SPD trailed the HDZ in months leading up to the election but have since closed the gap to less than 1 percentage point.
Croatia’s central location on the so-called Balkan migration route has made it a main transit point for those fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East, and the country’s population of 4.5 million expects thousands more to arrive on its borders in the coming months.
Though Milanovic has spoken out against keeping refugees in Croatia, his government has organized a well-oiled machinery to transport them across Croatian soil without hindrance.
Karamarko and HDZ, along with President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, have urged for tighter border controls.
The rivals have lobbed accusations at each other over the fragile economy, persistent unemployment and soaring public debt, but all without offering a clear programme to improve the situation.
Apart from the SPD and the HDZ, which have dominated Croatian politics since the country split from the former Yugoslavia in 1991, several smaller groups are fighting for seats and a chance at a government coalition.
Around 3.8 million voters in the country and abroad can cast ballots until 7 pm (1800 GMT).