The party that led Croatia to independence conceded defeat Tuesday in the first parliamentary elections since the death of President Franjo Tudjman.
An opposition coalition led by an ex-communist and a former dissident seemed poised to beat Tudjman's Croatian Democratic Union in a landslide, leading handily in nine of 11 districts with 84 percent of Monday's vote counted, Croatian state television reported.
Foreign Minister Mate Granic, expected to be the candidate in the upcoming presidential election for Tudjman's party, said the party "clearly has lost" the elections and the results were "far below our expectations."
"I congratulate the winners," Granic said. "We will be a tough opposition."
The coalition of Social Democrats and the Social Liberals seemed likely to take some 71 seats in Croatia's lower house, which will have about 150 seats. The Croatian Democratic Union should have 40 seats, and a loose coalition between four other parties appeared set to hold 24 seats, unofficial results showed.
The total number of seats in the lower house depends on the turnout of Croat expatriates who have the right to vote abroad in 47 countries. Final official results are expected Friday.
At the headquarters of the opposition coalition, the mood was one of triumph. The two coalition leaders, Ivica Racan and Drazen Budisa, raised their arms as their supporters cheered.
Racan, leader of the Social Democrats and the coalition's choice for prime minister, said the results "are realistic," adding, "we were aware of the citizens' feelings."
"We'll do our best to justify their confidence," he said.
Budisa, a leader of the Social Liberals, is the coalition's presidential candidate in elections Jan. 24.
The coalition has promised to introduce democratic reforms and radical changes to erase corruption and mismanagement, and to cut government spending by halving the salaries of legislators and some senior officials.
The opposition also has pledged to shift power from the presidency to the parliament. Tudjman enjoyed almost monarchial powers during his party's tenure.
The turnout -- more than 76 percent of the nearly 4.2 million eligible voters -- was a near record, indicating an awareness that the first vote after Tudjman's death Dec. 10 would be critical in determining the direction of the country.
Tudjman led the nation to independence from Yugoslavia in 1991 only to later lose western support because of his authoritarianism and a nationalism that often translated into anti-Serb sentiment and even persecution.
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