UPDATED 4:16 p.m. EST -- The conservative Croatian Democratic Union won a majority of seats in parliamentary elections Sunday, Reuters reported. With 63 seats, the right-leaning party edged out the incumbent center-left Social Democratic Party that won 52 seats, according to local authorities.
Croatian voters took to the polls Sunday to vote in the first election since joining the European Union in 2013. The incumbent center-left Social Democratic Party was hoping to split an even number of seats with a conservative opposition led by the Croatian Democratic Union, Agence France-Presse reported, citing preliminary polls.
The two parties each won 56 seats in early reporting, meaning with no outright majority they would need to form coalition governments with other smaller parties. The elections came as Croatia suffers under a lagging economy and struggles to deal with the ongoing refugee crisis.
The Eastern European country saw steady growth for the first few years of the 21st century until a continentwide recession hit in 2008-09, sinking growth and sending unemployment rates skyrocketing. Croatia has struggled to recover in the seven years since and still has 17 percent unemployment, with 40 percent youth unemployment (age 15-24), according to data from the World Bank.
#BREAKING Centre-left rulers, conservatives set for equal seat share in Croatia parliament, according to exit polls
— Agence France-Presse (@AFP) November 8, 2015
An ongoing refugee crisis has also put strain on the small nation of 4.2 million people. More than 600,000 refugees have arrived in Europe since January, with more than half of them fleeing war-torn Syria. The vast majority of refugees do not want to settle in Croatia permanently, in part because of its weak economy, and would prefer to apply for asylum in Germany, Austria or Sweden.
Thousands of people have moved through Croatia from Greece or other transit countries on their way to Northern Europe, however, and the influx has put strain on border authorities and other services.
Local authorities expected the migration issue in particular and other concerns surrounding the refugee crisis to spur support for conservative parties such as the Croatian Democratic Union that had vowed to stand up to leaders in the EU and build fences along the nation's borders.
"Our election campaign was very passionate,” said incumbent Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic of the center-left Social Democrats Sunday, AP reported. “Unfortunately, it has been marked by the migrant crisis as well as by hate speech and hate-mongering of the (conservative) backers."