ZAGREB – Updated exit polls showed that former prime minister and Social Democratic candidate Zoran Milanovic is ahead of other contenders in the first round of Croatian presidential election on Sunday, gaining 28.69 percent of the vote.

Incumbent President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic is behind him with 25.63 percent of the vote, while independent candidate Miroslav Skoro got 24.26 percent. The other eight candidates are far behind, with the fourth-place candidate winning 6.23 percent.

Croatian voters began to cast their ballots in the presidential election on Sunday morning. The updated exit polls were released nearly one hour after polling stations closed at 7 pm local time (1800 GMT).

The margin for error of the exit polls is 1.3 percent.

Grabar-Kitarovic is running for the second five-year term as the candidate of Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), the ruling center-right party. Milanovic is backed by the center-left Social Democratic Party (SDP). Skoro is a popular singer who is running as a right-wing independent candidate.

Milanovic’s campaign manager, Orsat Miljenic, told media here that “I expect Zoran to win whoever he will face in the second round.”

Croatian Parliament Speaker Gordan Jandrokovic, member of the ruling HDZ, said that they are very optimistic regarding the second round. “We believe that Grabar-Kitarovic will win in the second round, but it will be a difficult race,” Jandrokovic told Nova TV.

Croatia’s president is elected by a majority vote every five years. If none of the candidates obtains over 50 percent of the vote in the first round of voting, a second round will be held on Jan 5, 2020 for the top two candidates.

Over 3.8 million voters are eligible to choose their president for the next five years among 11 candidates.

A record number of 24,270 observers are overseeing the work of electoral committees on Sunday. According to the State Electoral Commission (DIP), a total of 1.343 million or 38.82 percent of eligible voters had cast their ballots by 4:30 pm, 103,000 more than at the same hour five years ago.

The first official results are expected to come out later on Sunday, while the official final results will be announced on Monday.

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