Croatia calls parliamentary elections for Nov.25

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ZAGREB, Oct 17 (Reuters) Croatians will vote in parliamentary elections next month in what is set to be a close contest between the opposition Social Democrats and the ruling HDZ conservatives of Prime Minister Ivo Sanader.

''In line with the constitution, President Stjepan Mesic has decided to call the parliamentary election for November 25 ,'' his office said in a statement today.

The winner of the vote -- the sixth since Croatia's 1991 independence from Yugoslavia -- will face the task of trying to conclude Croatia's European Union membership talks which started two years ago.

The HDZ has won all general elections except in 2000, when a broad centre-left coalition led by the Social Democrats (SDP) managed to oust it from power.

The SDP holds a slight edge in most recent opinion polls but the HDZ has rebounded in the past month, making the final vote unpredictable.

''According to popularity surveys, it is going to be very tight.

SDP's advantage has been melting in the last month and...the HDZ could still break even,'' said Andjelko Milardovic of the Centre for Political Studies.

He said the ruling party was further boosted this week as Croatia was elected to the United Nations Security Council.

Neither party looks set to be able to form a government on its own, so a coalition with smaller parties is likely.

But analysts say both main parties seem committed to Croatia's goals of winning a NATO membership invitation next year and joining the EU around 2010, and the election is unlikely to affect the country's reformist course.

''The left wing focuses more on social justice and redistribution of wealth, which appeals to voters but may put off investors, while the HDZ is more market oriented,'' said Milardovic.

''So, it's more a question of whether Croatia will be developing on the principles of liberal economy or social justice,'' he said.


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