Slovenia heads to the polls in early election

Ljubljana, SloveniaUpdated: Jun 03, 2018, 11:18 AM IST

A man passes by an electoral billboard of Slovenian People's Party (SLS) on May 21, 2018 in Ljubljana, Slovenia. Photograph:(AFP)

Slovenians vote Sunday in an early election in which veteran right-wing leader Janez Jansa looks set to emerge on top after consolidating his lead in the last days of the campaign.

The last poll published by the Dnevnik newspaper had Jansa's SDS on just over 25 per cent, well clear of its nearest rivals the Social Democrats, who were on 12 per cent.

However, with more than 40 per cent of those surveyed saying they either hadn't decided or didn't want to reveal their preference, a shock result can't be ruled out.

Jansa's combative personality, strident anti-immigration rhetoric and alliance with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban dominated the closing stages of the campaign.

In the final TV debate on Thursday Jansa effectively traded barbs with comedian-turned-politician Marjan Sarec.

Sarec's "anti-system" LMS party is on 11.9 per cent in Dnevnik's poll, a weaker showing than earlier in the campaign but one which could yet leave him well placed to play kingmaker if borne out.

The SMC party of outgoing Prime Minister Miro Cerar -- whose shock resignation in March prompted Sunday's poll -- is on just 9.3 per cent.

Cerar threw in the towel after months of being buffeted by public-sector strikes and internal wrangling within his coalition, with the last straw coming when a supreme court verdict on a flagship infrastructure project went against the government.

Some 1.7 million Slovenians are eligible to vote for 90 members of parliament.

Polling stations will be open between 7am local time (0500 GMT) and 7pm, with the first results expected on Sunday evening.

Fear of migrants

Even if Jansa's SDS party comes out ahead, he may still find it difficult to put together a majority in parliament.

The parties in the outgoing coalition -- the Social Democrats, the SMC and the pensioners' party DESUS -- have all ruled out collaborating with the SDS.

Sarec also recently told AFP that "spreading fear (of migrants) and getting the prime minister of a neighbouring country (Orban) involved in our elections has crossed all red lines and I and our members do not see ourselves in such a constellation".

Last month Orban took part in an SDS party convention and said an SDS victory "would ensure the survival of the Slovenian people".

According to Slovenian media reports, Jansa's media campaign has also been boosted by investments to the tune of two million euros from Hungarian media companies in a TV station and newspaper co-owned by SDS.

Sarec and other opponents say this may be a violation of campaign finance laws but SDS insist the investments are above board.

Instability ahead?

Jansa's political career stretches back to the country's struggle for independence from Yugoslavia and has already seen its fair share of drama. In 2013 he was forced to step down as prime minister over a corruption scandal and competed in the 2014 elections from jail.

Like rightwing leaders elsewhere he has adopted a combative presence on Twitter and has used it to defend his alliance with Orban.

"Thanks to its (migration) policy, Hungary is a safe country while Belgium, due to its wrong policy, isn't," read a recent Jansa tweet.

Almost 500,000 migrants crossed Slovenia in late 2015 and early 2016 along the so-called Balkan route.

During the campaign, Jansa effectively evoked the memory of the crisis to his advantage despite the fact that only a tiny fraction of the migrants stayed, with most continuing to northern Europe.

For the first time in over a decade, elections will take place against a backdrop of strong economic growth rather than of financial crisis or recession.

But Cerar's government has not reaped any political benefit from improved economic growth, with the campaign instead focusing on growing hospital waiting lists, demands for higher pensions and wages and for a better environment for businesses.

Analysts say that while parties may prove more open to co-operation once the results are counted, in the near future political instability may well continue, whether under a right-wing, Jansa-led government or one from the centre-left.