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Croats vote in close parliamentary race as virus spikes

Amid a spike of new coronavirus cases, voters in Croatia cast ballots on Sunday in what is expected be a close parliamentary race that could push the latest European Union member state further to the right.

The ballot is expected to produce no clear winner as neither the ruling conservatives nor their main liberal opponents appeared set to win a majority in the 151-member parliament.

This means that a newcomer right-wing party led by a popular folk singer could play a key role in the future government. Miroslav Skoro's Homeland Movement has polled third despite public outrage over some of his staunchly hard-line and nationalist views.

Cyclists and pedestrians wait to cross a street near the electoral posters of Prime Minister incumbent Andrej Plenkovic, in Zagreb, Croatia, Thursday, July 2, 2020. Croatia is holding a parliamentary election on July 5, 2020, with no clear winner in sight as the ruling conservatives' bid for re-election faces a strong challenge from both liberal and right-wing groups. (AP PhotoSasa Kavic)

Skoro's party is believed to have chipped away votes from the ruling Croatian Democratic Union, a conservative party that has dominated the political scene in Croatia since the independence in 1991.

The HDZ is bidding for reelection while faced with a renewed surge in virus cases that followed reopening of the country's borders and easing of lockdown rules. Croatia is struggling to salvage its main source of revenue — tourism along the Adriatic Sea coast.

A country of 4.2 million people, Croatia has kept the outbreak largely under control, reporting around 113 deaths and some 3,100 confirmed infections. But Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic was criticized over an outbreak at a tennis tournament organized by top-ranked Novak Djokovic in the coastal town of Zadar.

A woman walks past an electoral poster of Miroslav Skoro, a folk singer and leader of right-wing Homeland Movement, in Zagreb, Croatia, Thursday, July 2, 2020. Croatia is holding a parliamentary election on July 5, 2020, with no clear winner in sight as the ruling conservatives' bid for re-election faces a strong challenge from both liberal and right-wing groups. (AP PhotoSasa Kavic)

Plenkovic's main opponents are Restart coalition led by the center-left Social Democratic Party, the main liberal group. They say the government is plagued by corruption and voters should choose a new beginning if they want the country to move forward.

Restart could also ally with a new green-left alliance further on the left, if they gain enough seats. The group led by Mozemo, or We Can, party is strong mostly in the capital Zagreb but not so much in other parts of Croatia.

Some 3.8 million people are eligible to vote but analysts say virus fears could keep many at home. Voters have been advised to take own temperature and stay away if they have a fever. Those who vote should bring their own pen and wear a mask.

Davor Bernardic, leader of 'Restart' liberal-left coalition addresses the media in Zagreb, Croatia, Wednesday, June 3, 2020. Croatia is holding a parliamentary election on July 5, 2020, with no clear winner in sight as the ruling conservatives' bid for re-election faces a strong challenge from both liberal and right-wing groups. (AP Photo)

A woman walks past electoral posters of a new green-left coalition led by the Mozemo, or We Can group, in Zagreb, Croatia, Thursday, July 2, 2020. Croatia is holding a parliamentary election on July 5, 2020, with no clear winner in sight as the ruling conservatives' bid for re-election faces a strong challenge from both liberal and right-wing groups. (AP PhotoSasa Kavic)

A man walks past electoral posters of Zagreb's mayor Milan Bandic, in Zagreb, Croatia, Thursday, July 2, 2020. Croatia is holding a parliamentary election on July 5, 2020, with no clear winner in sight as the ruling conservatives' bid for re-election faces a strong challenge from both liberal and right-wing groups. (AP PhotoSasa Kavic)

A woman walks past electoral posters of a new green-left coalition led by the Mozemo, or We Can group, in Zagreb, Croatia, Thursday, July 2, 2020. Croatia is holding a parliamentary election on July 5, 2020, with no clear winner in sight as the ruling conservatives' bid for re-election faces a strong challenge from both liberal and right-wing groups. (AP PhotoSasa Kavic)