Slovenian minister's resignation renews calls for elections

By bne IntelliNews August 12, 2011

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The pervasive problem of corruption in the Balkans is now tainting Slovenian politics as the country's interior minister was forced to resign on August 10 amid corruption allegations, which has led to renewed opposition calls for a fresh election.

The 38-year-old Katarina Kresal's decision to leave was not a sign of guilt, but "due respect for the authority of law," she said, after the Commission for the Prevention of Corruption concluded it had detected "elements of corruption" in the rental of a building by her ministry.

The Court of Audit, initially called in by the anti-corruption commission, had said the day before that the company letting the building was not selected by a public tender, that bidders were treated unequally and that the ministry's dealings were wasteful. Social Democrat Prime Minister Borut Pahor refused Kresal's resignation on this first occasion, but "understood" a day later.

Pahor's government had already lost its parliamentary majority with the departure of DeSUS, a pensioners' party, in May and the left-liberal Zares in late June. Kresal's Liberal Democrats of Slovenia (LDS) party is now the only coalition partner left and has indicated that retaining the interior ministry will be the price of continuing in the coalition. Kresal's party leadership will be put to a confidence vote at the end of this month.

Opposition leader Janez Jansa repeated his call for fresh elections. President Danilo Tuerk, however, called for "calm and focused decisions" during the August parliamentary recess and urged all political parties to "refrain from emotional or election campaign-related statements and actions.

The Pahor government is already reeling from three defeats in plebiscites in June, among them one on increasing the retirement age, a move which might have helped helped slow the rising level of debt. The idea was rejected by 72%. The budget deficit, meanwhile, is forecast to end the year at 5.8%, almost twice the level laid down by Brussels for those in the euro.

Building problems

Kresal's downfall was that from February 1 last year her ministry rented the national headquarters of the NPU, the Slovenian version of the FBI, from Igor Jurij Pogacar, a controversial real estate dealer who counts among the friends of her life-partner Miro Senica, a lawyer. Pogacar's Ram Invest company, in turn, leased the building from Hypo Alpe Adria Group, a bank nationalised by the Austrian government in December 2009 to save it from collapse in murky circumstances.

The Democrat opposition claims the rental on the 10,400 square metre premises of €1.6m a year is excessive when compared to alternative arrangements prepared made by Kresal's Democrat predecessor, Dragutin Mate.

Kresal, a commercial lawyer, won her seat in parliament after the elections of September 2008, having entered politics a year earlier by being elected chairmen of the LDS. Her party's coalition with the Social Democrats began with a narrow majority and subject to relentless criticism.

Having initially been a tabloid favourite, Kresal soon faced a barrage of scandals, both real and otherwise. Early last year, she was a passenger in an unmarked police car stopped doing 160 km/h on the motorway. And in spring this year, newspapers said they had unearthed documents that suggested she illegally imported cars.

Kresal has faced two confidence votes in parliament, winning the first in April 2009 when the opposition Democrats wanted to oust her for restoring permanent resident status to people deleted from the register in 1992. Last year came the second, when the opposition queried her role in the leasing of the NBU building together with the return of a Bullmastiff dog to a well-known doctor in Ljubljana.

It proved to be the NBU building that had the more powerful bite.

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