Former diplomat and foreign minister Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović was elected the first female President of Croatia on Sunday, 11 January 2015. She beat the incumbent, Ivo Josipović, securing 50.74% of the vote in the second-round ballot. Mr Josipović received 49.26%. Turnout was 58.9%, up 12 percentage points on the four-way first round held on 28 December 2014. Mr Josipović narrowly won that ballot with 38.46% of the vote, against Ms Grabar-Kitarović’s 37.22%. As no candidate received a majority of the vote at that point, a second round was held between the two highest polling candidates on Sunday, 11 January 2015.
Croatia is now in its sixth year of recession. Initial enthusiasm for EU membership has waned since the country joined in July 2013. In particular, high unemployment (19%), high public spending and high taxation remain politically sensitive challenges for which some believe EU membership has offered little change.
President Josipović stood as an Independent candidate but was nominated by a broad coalition of centre-left, liberal and green parties led by the SPD. The President has little political power and cannot veto legislation, but plays a role in foreign and defence policy. President Josipović’s campaign commitments included extending the executive powers of the presidency and reforming the judiciary. Ms Grabar-Kitarović’s experience in transatlantic and European affairs suggests that she may focus foreign policy less on Croatia’s Balkan neighbours and more towards its NATO and EU partners.
Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović was born in Rijeka, Croatia and spent her teenage years in Los Alamos, New Mexico. She returned to Zagreb where she obtained her BA in English and Spanish in 1992. From there she joined the Ministry of Science and Technology, transferring to the Foreign Ministry a year later. She attended the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna and returned to the University of Zagreb to undertake an MA in International Relations. She specialised in North America and was posted to Canada from 1997 to 2000 before returning to the Foreign Ministry in Zagreb between 2001 and 2003. During that time she was awarded a Fulbright scholarship to George Washington University and fellowships at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and Johns Hopkins University.
Ms Grabar-Kitaroviće was elected to Parliament in 2003 for the Croatian Democratic Union (Hrvatska demokratska zajednica or HDZ) and led EU accession negotiations as Minister for European Integration in Prime Minister Ivo Sanader’s cabinet. The Foreign Affairs portfolio was added in 2005. She returned to diplomatic service as Ambassador to the United States from 2008 to 2011, before taking up the position of Assistant Secretary-General of NATO in 2011. She speaks fluent English, Spanish and Portuguese and has knowledge of German, French and Italian.
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