People in Croatia have started voting in the country’s parliamentary election, with opinion polls forecasting a tight competition between the governing center-left coalition and the rival Conservatives.
Polling stations opened at 07:00 a.m. local time (0600 GMT) on Sunday and will close at 07:00 p.m. local time (1800 GMT).
Some 3.8 million Croatians are eligible to take part in the poll to elect representatives to the 151-seat legislature in the East European state.
Sunday’s poll is Croatia’s first parliamentary election since it joined the European Union (EU) in 2013.
The country’s ruling coalition, Croatia is Growing, led by Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic’s Social Democrat Party (SDP) has been in power since 2011.
The opposition Patriotic Coalition, which is centered around the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), was ousted in 2011 amid a series of corruption scandals involving its former leader and ex-premier, Ivo Sanader.
The parliamentary election in Croatia comes as the country has become a transit hub for refugees, most of whom are fleeing conflict-hit zones in the Middle East and Africa.
Milanovic has reportedly garnered support over his policy towards asylum seekers by both showing compassion for them and vowing to defend national interests.
The opposition Patriotic Coalition has, however, suggested using fences and troops to cut the number of arrivals.
Almost 350,000 refugees have passed through Croatia since mid-September on their way to wealthier EU countries such as Germany or Sweden.
Meanwhile, economy is another issue facing the new parliament in Croatia. The governing coalition has been criticized for its failure to improve the business climate in the EU member state.
“People are above all concerned with the economy ... but neither of the two parties was giving real answers to those key issues,” said independent political consultant, Davor Gjenero.
The unemployment rate in Croatia stands at 15.4 percent, the third-highest in the EU after Greece and Spain. The youth unemployment is also at 43.1 percent.