19:31 / 17.05.2021.

Author: Katja Miličić

Elections: Puljak surprises in Split; SDP must hang on to Rijeka

Center party candidate Ivica Puljak (Photo: Ivo Cagalj/PIXSELL)

Center party candidate Ivica Puljak (Photo: Ivo Cagalj/PIXSELL)

Foto: - / Pixsell

Center party candidate Ivica Puljak was the surprise of the mayoral race in Croatia's second-largest city, Split, garnering 27% of the vote.

Puljak will face HDZ candidate Vice Mihanović, who received 23% of the vote, in the May 30 run-off. Puljak is confident in a victory and says Split has finally rejected Željko Kerum and must now vote out the HDZ.

"Only two competing visions remain for Split. The vision that we've had up until now was focused only on the self-interest of those who were destroying the city. The other vision imagines a different future for Split. If the city assembly rejects the idea of running the city by putting the public interest first, we will not be afraid to run again. As mayor, I will ask our constituents to give us even more support,” Puljak said on election night.

On Monday, Puljak challenged Mihanović to a debate and his HDZ opponent accepted. He is looking to appeal to right-leaning voters who did not vote for him.

"I would like to be your mayor and my door will always be wide open. I share my values with many of you. We must not allow political differences on the national level to divide us locally,” Mihanović said.

Analysts say the toughest race to call will be the one for mayor of Split. Puljak is a well-respected academic, a physics professor. He did have some trouble during the campaign when an old video surfaced showing him singing Ustasha songs at a wedding in 1994. His campaign downplayed the incident as foolish mistake, fueled by alcohol that occurred decades ago. Some analysts posit this many have helped more than hindered his candidacy, since it showed voters he was not an aloof academic but a regular person.

After 21 years under Social Democrat Mayor Veljko Obersnel, Rijeka will have a new mayor. Social Democrat candidate Marko Filipović is heading into a run-off against independent candidate Davor Štimac.  Filipović received 30 percent of the vote and Štimac heads into the second round with 16%.

The SDP will have to eke out a victory in Rijeka if they want to stay alive. This has been their traditional stronghold for decades. The SDP do still hold some smaller cities and towns, but analysts say losing Rijeka would be another very serious blow to a party that has been unravelling slowly for years.

Osijek may get its first mayor from the ranks of the HDZ. Their young candidate, Ivan Radić, with 39% of the vote, heads into a run-off against Berislav Mlinarević, who is supported by the Homeland Movement and Most and earned 20% of the vote on Sunday.

"We've been working with the community here for four years. I am glad that the voters recognized our consistent and constructive policies in Osijek," Radić said.

His opponent warned voters that appearances may be deceiving.

"I doubt Radić will be able to go it alone. He is a just a wolf cub dressed up in sheep's clothing to fool the public. And we all know who stands behind him: the wolf pack," Mlinarević said.

Turnout across the country was just under 47%.

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