Slovenia: Prime Minister Set To Be President

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Slovenia: Prime Minister Set To Be President

Slovenian prime minister well ahead in race for
the presidency, but fails to clinch a first-round victory.

A run-off election will be needed to determine
the next Slovenian president after none of the nine presidential
candidates managed to get more than 50 percent of the vote and win
a first-round victory.

The contenders will be the current prime
minister, Janez Drnovsek, and Barbara Brezigar, a state prosecutor
who is backed by the opposition Social Democratic Party (SDS) and
New Slovenia (NSi).

Drnovsek is the clear frontrunner after winning
44.3 percent of the vote. Brezigar gained 30.7 percent.

Both candidates struck an upbeat note after the
results became clear. Sounding confident, Drnovsek said the vote
“gives me a real chance of victory in the run-off,” adding that he
hoped that in the second round, he would manage to convince “those
people who voted this time a bit differently.”

Seventy-one percent of the 1.6 million-strong
electorate turned up at the ballot box.

Brezigar, who had not been a frontrunner at the
start of the campaign, said she would challenge Drnovsek, who has
been in power since 1992, “with pleasure,” as “the time has come
for new people in Slovenian politics, for people who want to bind
the nation together and look at people without prejudice. It’s time
to stop dividing people according to left or right.”

Drnovsek and Brezigar will meet each other in
three face-to-face debates in the three weeks that remain before
the second-round vote, scheduled for 1 December, which also happens
to be Brezigar’s birthday. “I want a present for everyone and not
only for myself, namely that we all vote for the future of our
homeland,” Brezigar said.

When the votes were counted, Drnovsek and
Brezigar towered over their opponents, with the third-place
candidate coming in with just 8.5 percent of the vote. However, it
was the performance of the unsuccessful candidates that perhaps
produced the biggest surprises of the day.

Just a month after Slovenia was finally invited
to join the European Union by the European Commission and two weeks
before it is expected to be invited to join NATO, a staunch
opponent of Slovenia’s membership of both organizations emerged
third. “It is a fact,” asserted Zmago Jelincic, head of the Slovene
Nationalist Party (SNS), “that this time the number of smart
Slovenians has increased.” He went on to predict that his share of
the vote would double in the next presidential elections.

There was no doubt about the most disappointed
candidate. In the early stages of the campaign, France Arhar, the
candidate of the People’s Party (SLS), was running neck-and-neck
with Drnovsek. However, he ultimately garnered just 7.6 percent of
the vote.

Arhar’s plunge dates back to media reports in
August revealing that he earns 11 times more than the average
Slovene. However, the revelation that, as chairman of the board of
directors of the partly state-funded health insurance company
Vzajemna, he earned some 8,000 euros a month after tax–a huge
salary in a country where the monthly average is 700 euros–became
fatal when he refused to comment on the issue for two weeks. After
that, no interview with Arhar was complete without questions about
the affair.

Some political commentators described the affair
as a media lynching, an expression that Arhar echoed on the evening
of the elections. On hearing the first election results, Arhar
commented that “after the media lynching or murder, I remain
alive.”

Another man who underperformed was France Bucar,
speaker of the first Slovenian parliament and father of the
Slovenian constitution. Pollsters had been predicting that he would
place third. In the event, he won just 3.4 percent. However, it was
not altogether a surprise, as Bucar had himself said that he was
“not prepared to lift a finger” in his campaign.

END OF AN ERA?

The election marks the end of the era, as the
current president, Milan Kucan, has been president since 1990.
Kucan’s longevity was highlighted just prior to the elections, when
representatives of the prosecutor’s office at the International
Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia met with him to ask
about the final rift that led to the breakup of Yugoslavia and to
Slovenia’s independence. Some Slovenes refer to Kucan, who won
first-round victories in both his presidential campaigns, as the
“father of the nation” for his role in gaining independence.

However, Kucan has said that he will continue to
play an active role in politics. Nor is it impossible that he will
become president again. Under Slovenian law, Kucan cannot serve
three consecutive five-year terms. However, there is nothing to
prevent him from trying again in five years’ time.

Kucan also played a role in finding his
successor, coming out unequivocally in support of Drnovsek and
saying, “I am very happy that the majority of voters thought the
same way as I did.”

Such support will merely cement Drnovsek’s
position as the most likely victor. Drnovsek has been in power for
a decade, and his pivotal role in guiding the country toward the EU
and NATO guaranteed a large vote of gratitude.

However, Janez Jansa, head of Slovenia’s leading
opposition party, the SDS, asserted that Drnovsek’s dual position
as prime minister and presidential candidate amounted to abuse of
office. On 7 November, just days before the poll, Jansa branded the
elections “unfair,” telling the press that the candidates and
parties had not had equal opportunities to present themselves to
voters. His criticism was directed toward Drnovsek’s Liberal
Democratic Party (LDS), which, in his opinion, has enormous and
unlimited funds at its disposal.

Local elections were held at the same time as
the presidential vote. Though overshadowed by the vote for the next
president, they will serve as a good indicator of whether the LDS
is gaining or losing support halfway through its four-year term.
According to the first results, a run-off will be needed to decide
the mayor of the capital, Ljubljana, as well as of the
second-biggest city, Maribor.

To read more about the candidate countries,
please visit

Transitions Online.


 

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