Croatians head to presidential polls in tight race
Around 3.8 million voters can pick among 11 candidates, but only three are at the forefront. The government has been criticized for setting the date three days before Christmas, when many people are travelling.
Croatians cast their votes on Sunday in the country's presidential election, which sees a tight race between conservative Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, the Social Democrat Zoran Milanovic and the folk-singer turned right-wing politician, Miroslav Skoro.
Political analysts have predicted that none of the candidates can win an outright majority as Grabar-Kitarovic and Milanovic are all polling close to one another and that a runoff vote will be held on January 5 between the two.
Incumbent Grabar-Kitarovic, who has been president since 2015 and is running for a second term, is backed by the country's governing conservative Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ). The center-right party has led the country for most of the time since independence from the former Yugoslavia in 1991 and is seeking to maintain their power before Croatia assumes the European Union's (EU) presidency for the first time.
The presidential post is primarily ceremonial. The new president is expected to represent Croatia abroad and command its army.
However, keeping the presidency is crucial for the HDZ as the government is on course to assume the EU presidency on January 1.
Grabar-Kitarovic's HDZ has been tipped to win 28.3% of the votes, SPD's Milanovic has been tipped to win 26.6% and Skoro, the popular independent singer who had defected from the HDZ as a lawmaker in 2008, was tipped to come in third with 20.7% of the vote.
Grabar-Kitarovic had started off stronger than the other 10 candidates, but her popularity dropped after a number of gaffes during her presidential campaign.
The 51-year-old is struggling to maintain her grip on hard-liners shifting their support to Skoro. In her reelection bid, Grabar-Kitarovic played on an emotive symbol of the 1990s independence war.
She staged her final campaign rally on Friday in the eastern town of Vukovar, a town which witnessed bloody conflict with Serbian forces and became emblematic of Croatian suffering during the Yugoslav Wars.
Grabar-Kitarovic told crowds those who fought and died in the war "don't regret being killed since Croatia is (now) here".
Meanwhile, 57-year-old Skoro appealed to nationalist voters by vowing to deploy troops at the country's borders to prevent migrants entering as well as pardon a convicted war criminal.
Social Democrat Milanovic, who was Prime Minister from 2011 to 2016, had pledged to make Croatia a "normal" country with an independent judiciary and tolerance and respect for minorities.
Croatia remains one of the poorest economies in the EU, and corruption is believed to be widespread. The government has been criticized for setting the voting date in the lead-up to Christmas, a time when many people in the country travel abroad.
Afghanistan's Ghani wins contested presidential election: preliminary results
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani won a majority in September elections, according to preliminary results. The delayed outcome of the vote has cast a shadow over US-Taliban peace talks.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani appears to have won a second term, according to preliminary results announced by the country's election commission on Sunday, three months after a contested election tainted by allegations of fraud and low turnout.
Results for the September 28 presidential poll have been repeatedly delayed and the saga was set to continue with Ghani's main challenger announcing he would challenge the outcome.
Hawa Alam Nuristani, head of the Independent Election Commission, said at a press conference that Ghani secured 50.6% of the vote compared to Abdullah Abdullah with 39.52%.
Abdullah, who serves as the country's chief executive in a fragile national unity government, has repeatedly accused the vote of being marked by fraud and technical difficulties.
"We would like to make it clear once again to our people, supporters, the election commission and our international allies that our team will not accept the result of this fraudulent vote unless our legitimate demands are addressed," his office said in a statement.
The challenge could delay final results by several weeks.
If the results hold, Ghani would win a second term without a runoff.
The current unity government between Ghani and Abdullah was put in place with the mediation of the United States after Afghanistan's controversial 2014 presidential election. No results were announced from that election and the two leading contenders, Ghani and Abdullah, agreed to share power.
The election commission's announcement on Sunday comes as the government in Kabul has been sidelined in direct talks between the United States and Taliban.
Washington seeks to withdraw its troops and end a costly 18-year war that has yielded few results.
The Taliban, who control around half the country, have refused to negotiate with Kabul and implement a ceasefire as demanded by the government.