Zoran Milanovic, Croatia's comeback politician

Zoran Milanovic who won Sunday's presidential election made a comeback after being absent from politics for three years (AFP Photo/Denis LOVROVIC)

Zagreb (AFP) - Zoran Milanovic, Croatia's former leftist prime minister who was elected the country's new president Sunday, is an experienced politician who made a comeback after being absent from politics for three years.

While intelligent and articulate, the 53-year-old is seen by critics as arrogant and a loner focused on his own ambitions, who lacks the common touch.

With a serious manner and a stern gaze Milanovic has struggled in the past to woo ordinary voters.

When he was named prime minister in 2011, aged 45, the leader of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) was perceived by many as a promising young politician, free of the corruption plaguing the rival conservative HDZ party.

But his government failed to live up to expectations and implement much-needed reforms, perpetuating widespread patronage and poor economic trends.

His SDP lost power following 2015 elections and Milanovic stepped down as party chief after he failed again in the following year's snap vote.

He has since been running a management consultant company whose clients have included Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, according to media reports.

Milanovic threw his hat in the presidential race last June, running as a "President with Character" in a cheeky allusion to his reputation for being stubborn.

He has previously described himself as having a "leftist heart and conservative head", but has been criticised for a standoffish approach towards rivals and the media.

In the campaign he promised to make Croatia a "normal, decent" liberal democracy, with an equal society and independent judiciary.

Born in Zagreb in 1966, Milanovic was a top law student.

An avid amateur boxer in his twenties he never took part in matches preferring to remain a sparring partner.

He joined the foreign ministry during the former Yugoslav republic's 1990s independence war.

Afterwards Milanovic served for three years with Croatia's European Union and NATO mission in Brussels and eventually joined the SDP in 1999.

He saw the party as the perfect counterweight to the 'rural' values promoted by the then ruling HDZ, whose nationalist leader Franjo Tudjman died in December 1999.

Milanovic was elected head of the SDP in mid-2007 as successor to his mentor Ivica Racan, a former prime minister who died of cancer.

Milanovic is married to a doctor and has two sons.