Messy start: Croatia to elect new leader amid EU presidency

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Presidential candidate Zoran Milanovic greets his supporters in Zagreb, Croatia, Sunday, Dec. 22, 2019. The race for Croatia's next president is heading to a runoff vote. A preliminary count from an election held Sunday showed neither the incumbent nor any of the 10 other candidates won the office outright. With nearly all ballots counted, liberal opposition candidate Zoran Milanovic was leading the race with nearly 30% support. (AP Photo/Darko Bandic)

ZAGREB – Croatia's bitterly contested presidential race is headed for a runoff this weekend to decide whether a conservative or a liberal will become the new head of state while the country holds the European Union presidency for the first time.

Incumbent President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic from the governing conservative party is facing leftist former Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic in what analysts say could be a highly unpredictable and tight vote on Sunday.

The two made it into the runoff following the first round of voting on Dec. 22. Milanovic had a slight lead over Grabar Kitarovic, but opinion polls suggest there's no clear favorite.

Here's a look at what's at stake at the ballot:

THE PRESIDENT'S ROLE IN CROATIA

It is a largely ceremonial post compared to the prime minister, who holds more actual power, yet the president still formally commands the army and represents the country abroad.

However, the president is chosen in a direct public vote, which gives the head of state additional political weight and a important voice on key topics in society.

WHY IS SUNDAY'S VOTE IMPORTANT?