Clare Nuttall in Bucharest -
In another case of Europeans fed up with their country's corrupt, venal and incompetent politicians, opinion polls show the frontrunner in Slovenia’s parliamentary election campaign is Party of Miro Cerar, launched by the political outsider less than six weeks before the July 13 election.
Barely a week after his centre-left party’s launch on June 2, Cerar took the lead in the opinion polls and has managed to maintain that position. Law professor and parliamentary advisor, Cerar launched his eponymous party with a manifesto that promotes the rule of law and accountability, economic freedom and social stability.
While his political platform appears to have struck a chord in Slovenia, Cerar’s sudden arrival on the political scene is just as important among an electorate fed up with political infighting, corruption scandals and a stagnating economy.
Voter disillusionment was evident in the April European Parliament elections, when little over 20% of the electorate turned out to vote, despite the poll being viewed as a dress rehearsal for widely expected domestic elections later in the year. The ruling Positive Slovenia party performed poorly, taking just 6.61% of the vote - too little to take even a single European Parliament seat.
A recent poll carried out by Ninamedia for broadcaster POP TV and the daily Dnevnik put Cerar’s party in the lead with 19.8% of the vote. In second place was the conservative Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS) with 15.2%, despite the conviction of its leader, former prime minister Janez Jansa, who started serving a two-year prison sentence for corruption on June 20. The SDS also took the largest share of the vote in the European Parliament elections in an apparent backlash against the ruling Positive Slovenia.
In May, Prime Minister Alenka Bratusek was ousted as leader of Positive Slovenia in favour of the party’s founder and former leader, Zoran Jankovic. After the resignation of Bratusek, Slovenia’s first female prime minister, President Borut Pahor dissolved the parliament and called snap elections for July 13.
Comebacks and debuts
Before Cerar launched his political career, there was speculation that Bratusek could stage a comeback in the election. On May 31, she launched her own party, the Alliance of Alenka Bratusek, taking with her a splinter group of Positive Slovenia MPs, leaving Jankovic in charge of a much-diminished force.
Bratusek is popular with international financiers after she launched a far-reaching economic rescue programme in 2013, managing to help Slovenia avoid having to ask for an international bailout. However, she has not managed to hold onto support at home and there is growing opposition to her government’s measures including the privatisations of major state companies.
Cerar has already indicated he wants to roll back the Bratusek government’s privatisation programme. In a televised debate on June 20, he spoke out against the planned privatisation of Telekom Slovenije, the largest state-owned company currently earmarked for sale. "We will aim to stop it if that will be possible," Cerar said, according to Reuters.
Cerar added that while he was not against privatisation per se, companies of “strategic importance” should remain in state hands. The Telekom Slovenije sale process is already underway, with the Slovenian government inviting binding bids for a 72.75% stake in the company on June 9.
Despite Cerar’s popularity, none of the polls give him a large enough share of the vote to form a government alone. According to a note from Teneo Intelligence, no single party is likely to win a majority in the upcoming election, putting Slovenia on track for a new round of negotiations to strike a coalition deal. With the vote now fixed for July 13, “the formation of the new government is only expected by September, due to the likely slow coalition negotiations in the summer period,” writes Teneo’s Otilia Dhand.
A protracted period of negotiations is likely to slow investment and may dash hopes of an economic revival this year. Slovenia, along with neighbouring Croatia, has been slow to emerge from the recent economic crisis, but its economy is expected to grow by a modest 0.8% this year, according to a May 2014 report from the European Commission. However, the report warns that a return to political turmoil would put the country’s privatisation and deleveraging processes at risk, and jeopardise growth prospects.
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