A leftist opposition legal scholar will face off against Zagreb’s colourful mayor in Croatia’s presidential runoff elections, the state-run Electoral Commission said early Monday.

The failure of the ruling conservative party candidate to make the runoff signals Croatians’ growing dissatisfaction with the government’s handling of the economy and charges of high-level corruption.

With nearly all votes counted Sunday, the commission said Social Democrat lawmaker Ivo Josipovic garnered 32.4 percent of votes and Zagreb Mayor Milan Bandic -- who ran as independent candidate -- got 14.8 percent of votes.

Because no candidate got more than 50 percent of the vote, the top two finishers must now face each other in a Jan. 10 runoff.

Both candidates are considered pro-Western and both will likely support the ex-Yugoslav country’s efforts to win entry into the European Union, possibly in 2011 or 2012.

A professor of international law at the Zagreb Law Faculty and lawmaker since 2003, Josipovic has a largely untainted resume, but even his supporters acknowledge that he suffers from a lack of charisma.

Speaking after the vote, Josipovic, 52, said Croats “had a chance today to choose between justice and injustice, between law and lawlessness, between light and darkness.”

“They obviously have chosen light and I’m sure it will be the same on Jan. 10,” Josipovic said.

Zagreb’s mayor since 2000, the 54-year-old Bandic remains popular despite allegations of political cronyism. Bandic was kicked out of the Social Democrats when he decided to oppose Josipovic in the presidential election.

Following Sunday’s vote Bandic said the result showed that Croatia “needs a different president, who won’t be affected by any party’s policies.”

Bandic views are often hard to pin down, shifting across the political spectrum. He allowed a nationalist singer to perform at the main square, dismaying many Zagreb residents, but has also supported gay parades, unnerving conservatives.

Bandic also has a more checkered past than his staid rival. In 2002, he fled police after being caught driving drunk.

Local media claim he regularly fixes bids for city work projects, funnelling to his aides and overpaying them. He denies the charges pointing out there has been no formal investigation launched against him.

The country of 4.5 million joined NATO in April and hopes to enter the EU soon.

Voter’s main concerns during the campaign were economic recovery and fighting widespread corruption. Fighting graft is also a key condition for joining the EU.

Twelve candidates were running to replace popular President Stipe Mesic, who helped discourage the nationalism promoted by his predecessor in the 1990s, and encouraged a shift to the West.

The turnout was about 44 percent.

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