Election preview: Slovenia

It’s been a big week in European politics, with new governments formed in Italy and Spain. We’ll have a look at those in the next couple of days, but first there’s an election tonight in a smaller and newer democracy, Slovenia.

At first sight, Slovenian politics looks highly unstable, with parties appearing and disappearing with remarkable speed. (This story from four years ago recounts the background.) But underlying voter behavior is actually quite consistent.

At the last election, in 2014, seven parties won seats (there’s a 4% threshold for representation). On the right were the Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS) and the Christian Democrats (now called New Slovenia), with 26.3% of the vote and 27 seats between them. On the left were the Social Democrats and the further-left United Left (now just known as “The Left”), with a combined 12.0% and 12 seats. In between were three parties: the new Miro Cerar Party (now the Modern Centre Party, carefully keeping the same initials), which topped the poll with 34.6% and 36 seats; the Alenka Bratušek Party, a remnant of the previous centrist group, Positive Slovenia (4.4% and four seats); and the Pensioners Party, DeSUS, which serves the interests of its constituency regardless of who’s in power (10.2% and ten seats).

The proportions between right, left and centre don’t change much, although the left’s result last time was particularly bad (in line with most of the rest of Europe). What changes is the identity of the main centrist party: Positive Slovenia came out of nowhere to win a plurality in 2011, only to be replaced by Cerar’s group in 2014. Now it too has faded – opinion polls show it managing fourth place at best – and there’s a new centrist force in the field, the Marjan Šarec List.

Šarec, a former journalist and comedian, narrowly lost the presidential election last year, against incumbent Social Democrat Borut Pahor. His politics appear to be broadly liberal-centrist with a populist streak; as always in Slovenia, opposition to corruption is a key issue. Polls suggest that his group and the Social Democrats are the chief contenders for second place tonight – behind SDS, which looks set to lead with something like 20%.

SDS leader Janez Janša fought the 2014 election from jail, having been convicted of corruption, but was later freed by the Constitutional Court. His rhetoric this time is directed mostly against immigrants and refugees; having been prime minister twice before, his aim is to take Slovenia down the authoritarian path pioneered by Hungary’s Viktor Orbán. But with only the Christian Democrats (again polling around 6%) as a likely ally, it’s hard to see how he can get to a majority. Even without DeSUS, the parties of the centre and left look set for a majority between them.

That doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll co-operate. Last time, Cerar formed a government in coalition with the Social Democrats and DeSUS. It seemed to manage fairly well until March this year, when a Supreme Court decision on a disputed railway project exposed tensions between the coalition partners and led to Cerar’s resignation.

If they now have to work not just with one another but with Šarec and maybe the far left as well, it’s clearly going to be difficult. But if the alternative is Janša and the SDS, they’ll probably find a way. Slovenia’s centrists, through their various incarnations, have generally preferred to deal with the left rather than the right. Šarec in particular has spoken out strongly against Janša’s scaremongering.

Three parties are polling just below the 4% threshold and could still make it into parliament: the Bratušek group, the agrarian People’s Party, and the far right Slovenian National Party. The latter two would be possible allies for the SDS. There is also one seat allocated to each of the Hungarian and Italian ethnic minorities.


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