A conservative populist become Croatia's first female president today after beating the center-left incumbent in a runoff election amid deep discontent over economic woes in the European Union's newest member. The state electoral commission said that with about 97% of the vote counted, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic won 50.54%, while President Ivo Josipovic had 49.46%. The result meant that Grabar-Kitarovic won by a slight margin of about 21,000 votes, mostly by Croats living abroad.
The presidency in Croatia is a largely ceremonial position, but the vote was seen as a major test for Croatia's center-left government, which is facing parliamentary elections later this year under a cloud of criticism over its handling of the economic crisis. The conservative triumph could shift Croatia back to right-wing nationalism, jeopardizing relations with its neighbors, including bitter Balkan wartime rival Serbia. Grabar-Kitarovic, a former foreign minister, ambassador to Washington, and assistant to the NATO secretary general, said during her victory speech that she "will work for Croatia, and I won't allow anyone saying that Croatia will not be a prosperous country." (Read more Croatia stories.)