Political unknown forces second round in Slovenian presidential election

Political unknown forces second round in Slovenian presidential election
By bne IntelliNews October 23, 2017

Slovenia’s presidential elections will go to a second round after on October 22 the incumbent President Borut Pahor — dubbed Slovenia's country’s ‘king of Instagram’ — failed to win over 50% of the vote. In the second round on November 12, Pahor’s competitor will be a relatively new name on the Slovenian political scene: Marjan Sarec, mayor of the small Slovenian town Kamnik near Ljubljana.

Even though the data indicate that Pahor will easily win in the second round, the results from October 22 surprised everyone as pre-election polls indicated Pahor would win in the first round with significantly larger support.

According to the latest data from the country’s election commission, based on 99.9% of votes counted, 47.07% voted for Pahor, while Sarec took 24.97% of the vote.

Sarec is an actor who will turn 40 in December. Since 2010, he has been serving as Kamnik mayor. Before his career in politics, he worked as a journalist at the public broadcaster RTV Slovenija.

He welcomed the news late on October 22, writing in a brief statement on his website that “Marjan Sarec and Borut Pahor will face the second round. Thank you to all those who attended the election and thank you all for giving Marjan Sarec his voice. See you at the polls on November 12th.”

He campaigned with the slogan “Human. Community. Country.”, while Pahor’s slogan was “Together”.

Pahor, who will turn 54 on November 2, has a significantly longer and richer political career, which started in the early 1990s. Prior to becoming president in 2012, he served as prime minister from November 2008 until September 2011.

He launched his reelection campaign in August by embarking on a walking tour of the country, and encouraging ordinary Slovenians to join him for part of the journey as he hiked 40km a day. The highly Instagrammable walking holiday was in keeping with Pahor’s personal and proactive approach to politics that has earned him the title “the king of Instagram” as well as a reputation as the most modern president in the Western Balkans. 

However, this wasn’t enough to win him a first round victory although observers say he is virtually assured a win on November 12. The first round upset is partly due to the unexpectedly low turnout, indicating that Pahor’s strategy of reaching out directly to voters over social media has not been as successful as previously believed. Only 43.57% of the electorate, 745,835 people, went to the polls on October 22.

“The big surprise that there is going to be a second round since during last few weeks and even months of the campaign, Pahor was seen as the clear winner. At the very beginning, some polls showed that he could have taken even 70% of the vote,” Miran Videtic, director at management consulting company VI-PU based in Kamnik, told bne IntelliNews. 

“Low turnout is definitely a reason why there is going to be the second round. It is very surprising since the weather in Slovenia is very bad, rainy, and it was expected that people would stay at home [rather than going away for the weekend] and go to vote. However, now this is a question for politicians how to motivate people to vote and see politics as a serious business,” Videtic added.

“The low turnout shows an apathy among people related to politics and it is a question for politicians how they are going to manage it in the future … Overall, turnout lower than 50% is very bad and can affect the democracy.” 

Despite expectations of a second round win for Pahor, the spotlight is now on Sarec, an unknown quantity in Slovenian politics. 

“Sarec … was famous as a comedian and it is tough to estimate his political direction,” Videtic said. 

He describes the Kamnik mayor as “an antipode of everything that Pahor is”. “He presented himself as a person who doesn’t like Instagram, Facebook or Twitter even though he used all platforms in the campaign. His story is that he goes to church but also to anniversaries of anti-fascist fights of [the communists] People Liberation Army in WWII,” he tells bne IntelliNews. 

There has been some, as yet unconfirmed, speculation that Sarec is a candidate of the Slovenian ‘hard left’ which used to be led by the country’s first president Milan Kucan, which — if they turn out to be correct — could be bad news for investors. Ljubljana has sought to encourage export-oriented FDI to its small economy, offering subsidies for the likes of Canadian auto parts supplier Magna to set up operations in the country. 

“If a country has a radical president it is not a good message for investors at all as none of them would invest in such a place,” notes Videtic, even though the role of the president is mainly ceremonial. 

Overall, however, he believes even a second round surprise would be largely neutral for investors. “Whoever wins the second round, it will not bring any significant influence to the Slovenian economy. However, Pahor has been a president who has been showing to foreign investors that they are welcome in Slovenia,” Videtic concluded.