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The liberal opposition party headed by political newcomer Robert Golob was claiming victory against Slovenia’s three-time Prime Minister Janez Jansa’s conservative party in the country’s general elections on Sunday, according to exit polls.
Golob’s Freedom Movement (GS), which he launched only in January, has built on anger with Jansa’s regime in the Alpine ex-Yugoslav state, amid concerns over rule-of-law issues in the deeply polarized EU member.
The opposition accuses Jansa of authoritarianism since he returned to power in 2020 and tried to undermine democratic institutions and press freedoms like his ally Viktor Orban in neighboring Hungary.
With more than half the votes counted, in the country of around 2 million people, Freedom Movement (GS) stood at almost 33% of the vote compared to 25% for Jansa’s Slovenian Democratic Party.
An exit poll earlier gave GS 35.8% of the vote compared to 22.5% for SDS.
“People want changes and have expressed their confidence in us as the only ones who can bring those changes,” Golob told his jubilant supporters.
“Tomorrow we will start working hard to justify that trust,” he added, speaking via a livestream from his home where he was in isolation after contracting COVID-19.
The 55-year-old former power company manager has promised to restore “normality” and billed the elections as a “referendum on democracy.”
Jansa’s Interior Minister Ales Hojs said SDS was still waiting for the official results.
Jansa, 63, an admirer of U.S. ex-President Donald Trump, campaigned on promises of stability. He began his rise to power when he became defense minister in Slovenia’s first post-communist government in 1990.
He has taken a strong pro-Ukraine stance since Russia’s invasion in February and visited Kyiv early on in the war.
Nearly 1.7 million people were eligible to vote in the small Alpine nation.
Sporting a tie in the national colors of Ukraine, blue and yellow, Jansa cast his vote early in his village of Arnace in the northwest.
“Elections will decide how will Slovenia develop not only in the next four years but also during the whole next decade since many projects have been set up,” Jansa told reporters.
Analysts had been expecting an increased turnout with voters turning against Jansa’s style.
At 4 p.m. (2 p.m. GMT), 49.3% of the 1.7 million electorates had voted – compared to 34.4% who turned out by the same time in the last parliamentary elections in 2018, the Electoral Commission said.
“I hope the situation will change … It is obvious that most of the people are not satisfied with this government and the way it’s governing,” Sara Rigler, a 21-year-old psychology student, told Agence France-Presse (AFP) at a polling station in the capital Ljubljana earlier Sunday.