Newcomer nails it in Slovenia

Sunday’s election in Slovenia, the most westernised of the former Yugoslav republics, produced the expected victory for law professor Miro Cerar and his eponymous party. Official results show him with 34.6% of the vote and 36 of the 90 seats, well clear of the centre-right Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS) on 20.7% and 21 seats. (See Sunday’s preview here.)

Considering that the SDS’s leader, Janez Janša, is currently in jail for corruption, that’s not a bad performance. In fact, for all its apparent political instability, voter behavior in Slovenia has been quite stable. In each of the last three elections the SDS has been the second party, with between 20 and 30% of the vote, beaten in each case by a centrist or centre-left party – but a different one each time.

In 2008 the Social Democrats won a plurality and were able to put together a majority coalition, but it collapsed in 2011 under the stress of the European financial crisis. The 2011 election saw the emergence of a new centrist party, Positive Slovenia, which topped the poll but was unable to win majority support in parliament. Now it has disappeared (it won 3.0% of the vote, below the minimum threshold), and the Miro Cerar Party is the new winner.

There’s not much doubt that Cerar will be able to find suitable coalition partners. Five smaller parties will be represented in parliament, and only the Christian Democrats (with 5.5% and five seats) would be at all likely to line up with the SDS. Most likely Cerar will govern with the assistance of some or all of the pensioners party (ten seats), the Social Democrats (six) and the Bratušek group, a breakaway from Positive Slovenia (four).

The other newcomer to parliament is the United Left, which won 6.0% and six seats, fractionally ahead of the Social Democrats, on an anti-austerity platform. Cerar is also regarded as a sceptic about some promised economic reforms, including some privatisations. But while that’s been the main topic in the international coverage, it looks as if voters were more concerned about their corrupt and dysfunctional political class, and wanted someone who can clean things up.

That’s the obvious explanation not just for the defeat of the SDS and of Positive Slovenia (whose leader is also under investigation for corruption) but also for the disappearance of Civic List, which was punished for having put Janša back in power last time and managed just 0.6%. General disillusionment would also explain the fact that turnout this year was down sharply, to 51.0%.

From the perspective of the European left-right balance, this election seems pretty much a wash. On the one hand, the Social Democrats were relegated to fifth place and the SDS was the only one of the old parties to maintain a respectable vote; on the other hand, the vote is at least to some extent anti-austerity and the new government will basically be a centre to centre-left coalition.

Further evidence that the political mood on the continent is in something of a holding pattern, with neither side inspiring much voter confidence.

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