Slovenians vote in parliamentary elections amid polarization

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Slovenians headed to the polls on Sunday in parliamentary elections between conservative Prime Minister Janez Jansa and a political newcomer amid polarization in the country.

Jansa, 63, an ally of nationalist Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and admirer of U.S. ex-President Donald Trump, is polling head-to-head with Robert Golob, formerly a solar power entrepreneur.

Sporting a tie in the national colors of Ukraine, blue and yellow, Jansa cast his vote early in his village of Arnage in the northwest.

“Turnout will certainly be high and that is good … I hope that we will continue along the path that was set,” Jansa told reporters.

At midday, 21.05% of the 1.7 million electorates had voted – nearly 4% more than the 17.27% who turned out by the same time in 2017, the Electoral Commission said.

The three-time premier has campaigned on promises of stability, while analysts say concerns over the rule of law have boosted the opposition in the Alpine ex-Yugoslav state with a population of about 2 million.

“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 said.

‘Breaking point’

Tens of thousands of people have attended regular anti-government rallies, accusing Jansa of authoritarianism since he took power in March 2020.

Billing the elections as a “referendum on democracy,” the opposition accuses Jansa of trying to undermine democratic institutions and press freedoms like his ally Orban in neighboring Hungary.

“If this pace continues, we will be very close to that (tightening of state control like in Hungary and Poland) in four years,” Uros Esih, a columnist at one of Slovenia’s leading dailies Delo, told Agence France-Presse (AFP).

He said the elections represented a “breaking point” with “liberal and illiberal political forces clashing” in Slovenia.

“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 AFP at a polling station in the capital.

The ascendancy of 55-year-old Golob began when he took over a small Green party in January, renaming it Freedom Movement (GS).

The last poll from late Friday showed GS at more than 27% of the popular vote, slightly ahead of Jansa’s Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS) with 24%, though analysts warn numerous voters may make last-minute decisions.

Golob, who has promised to restore “normality,” also has the backing of several center-left opposition parties.

Jansa, even with center-right allies, looks unlikely to be able to secure a majority in the 90-seat parliament.

Important elections

Analysts expect an increased turnout of 60% – about 10 percentage points more than for the 2018 polls – with voters turning against Jansa’s style.

His image in the last two years has also been hurt by rows with Brussels over his moves to suspend funding to the national news agency and drag out the appointment of prosecutors to the bloc’s new anti-graft body.

Though Jansa was among the first foreign leaders to travel to Kyiv, on March 15, after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Moscow’s assault has not taken center stage in Slovenia’s election campaign.

“These elections are absolutely important … I hope and wish that this government stays. It has been doing a great job,” priest Andrej Mazej told AFP at the voting station in Jansa’s village.

Jansa already served as prime minister between 2004 and 2008, and 2012-2013. Only a year into his second term as premier, he was forced out by a corruption scandal.

Polls close at 7 p.m. (5 p.m. GMT) with exit polls due shortly after.

The polls would decide “between democracy and autocracy,” wrote Igor Krsinar, a columnist for Reporter Magazine, a rare critical conservative voice.


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