Leftist Milanovic is the new president of Croatia

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A leftist challenger has won Croatia’s presidential election beating a conservative incumbent – a rare victory by a liberal in recent votes in Central Europe.

With 99 per cent of the vote counted, Zoran Milanovic, a former Croatian prime minister, had 53 per cent while Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic, the country’s first female head of state when she won five years ago, had 47 per cent.

The result is a blow for the ruling conservatives while Croatia holds the European Union’s rotating presidency, and before a parliamentary election later this year.

“Thanks to all the volunteers, all of you who supported me during the past six months,” Milanovic wrote on Facebook. “People, thank you!”

Grabar Kitarovic’s associates said they will wait for complete results, but admitted that the gap between the two candidates as shown by the official vote count suggested major changes can’t be expected.

Croatia assumed the EU’s presidency on January 1 for the first time since joining the bloc in 2013. This means that the EU’s newest member state will be tasked for six months with overseeing Britain’s divorce from the bloc on January 31 and the start of post-Brexit talks.