Andrej Plenkovic, president of the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), reacts during a speech after exit polls in Zagreb, Croatia, September 11, 2016. ©Reuters
Preliminary results in Croatia show the ruling conservative party is leading parliamentary elections, but it has fallen short of receiving enough seats to form a government. 
With 80 percent of the votes counted, partial results released early Monday showed the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) has won 61 seats in the 151-seat parliament in Sunday’s snap elections.
The center-left Social Democrats (SDP) is trailing behind with 54 seats, while the center-right Most (Bridge) party came in third place with 12 seats.
Analysts say a close result could force either group to seek the support of the Most party.
Some 3.8 million people were eligible to vote in the country's second election in less than a year.
Supporters of the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) celebrate after exit polls in Zagreb, Croatia, September 11, 2016. ©Reuters
The previous HDZ-Most government collapsed in June after just five months amid disputes over public administration reforms and government appointments.
Political parties face a daunting task to build a coalition with a clear mandate for carrying out the tough reforms being demanded by the European Union in the country of 4.3 million.
The Most party has said implementing its liberal reforms is its pre-condition for entering a coalition.
Any governing majority may also need support from other, smaller parties, including deputies of ethnic minorities.
Croatia is gripped by an economic downturn for six years in one of Europe's weakest economies, where unemployment runs at 13 percent. It is also struggling with a wave of refugees.
It joined the European Union in 2013 after fighting a war for independence from Yugoslavia in the 1990s.