Slovenian parliament backs former comedian, fireman and church choir singer as new PM

Slovenian parliament backs former comedian, fireman and church choir singer as new PM
Slovenia's new Prime Minister Marjan Sarec (L) shakes hands with his predecessor Miro Cerar, who will serve as foreign minister in the new government.
By bne IntelliNews September 14, 2018

The Slovenian parliament backed Marjan Sarec, a former comedian, fireman and church choir singer, who has also worked as a journalist and served as mayor of the small town of Kamnik, as prime minister on September 13.

Sarec’s cabinet of 16 ministers was backed by only 45 MPs, as Slovenian Left (Levica), which had promised to support Sarec’s government while remaining in opposition, held back from voting in favour. However, even without Levica, thanks to the two MPs representing the Hungarian and Italian minorities, Sarec became prime minister with a relative majority, since only 34 MPs voted against him.

Sarec has been mayor of Kamnik since 2010. The obscure candidate made it to the second round of the 2017 presidential elections where he stood against incumbent Borut Pahor — known as “Barbie” because of his former career as a model — who only narrowly defeated him. Since then his popularity has been advancing, indicating that Slovenians want a new face on their political scene even though he still doesn’t have clear a political plan or principles.

Sarec needed more than three months to form the coalition after his party took second place in the June 3 general election. The political unknown’s path to the premiership was eased by the inability of Janez Jansa’s Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS) to form a coalition, even though it gained 25% of the vote in the elections.

Among Sarec’s partners are the three parties from the previous government — outgoing Prime Minister Miro Cerar’s Party of the Modern Centre (SMC) and its junior partners the Social Democrats (SD) and the Democratic Party of Pensioners of Slovenia (DeSUS) — as well as the Party of Alenka Bratusek (SAB), headed by another former prime minister. The five-party minority government has a combined 43 MPs.

A desire to prevent Jansa from forming a government is an important glue holding the coalition together. According to Miran Videtic, director at VI-PU, a management consulting company based in Kamnik where Sarec was mayor until June this year, the new Slovenian government is nothing but an anti-Jansa coalition whose head lacks political experience. This, in addition to the complex relations within a five party cabinet backed (or at least not blocked) by a sixth, could be a serious issue for its future.

This was highlighted by Levica’s decision not to vote in favour of the new cabinet on September 13. “It was just a burlesque. Levica didn’t vote for because it knew that it wasn’t needed. This was just a game in which they showed how they don’t go against the government but remained restrained even though they took part in the parliament discussion about new ministers,” says Videtic.

Videtic considers the decision not to back Sarec’s cabinet was a show of power by Levica. “This shows that the whole mandate will most likely be about pleasing Levica. That furthermore means doing everything Levica wants and demands,” he adds. 

This could be problematic given Levica’s stance on several issues concerning the economy, not least the upcoming privatisations of two major banks — Nova Ljubljanska Bank (NLB) and Abanka — that the government has to get away under its commitments to the European Commission. NLB is due to be sold off this year, a process that has been delayed by the election campaign and subsequent lengthy negotiations, and Abanka by the end of 2019. 

“Levica has a rigid position about entrepreneurship, private capital and free market and that’s potential and big obstacle for economic development of any country in current turbulent transition,” Videtic told bne IntelliNews.

He points out that the new government has described itself as a “social experiment”. “That’s dangerously unserious because they do not led a restaurant or a grocery store but a country, a Nato and EU member which will take over the presidency of the European Council during this government’s mandate in July-December 2021,” Videtic said, adding that a big challenge will be finding common ground with Levica in relation with Slovenian businesspeople and investors.

“Slovenia is export oriented country which relies on the EU. Levica calls exporters Slovenia’s “Achilles Heel” [which is] really not an encouraging message for foreign investors,” Videtic concluded.

There is further uncertainly about the plans of the new government. In his speech on September 13, Sarec only proposed the list of his ministers without specifying what will be the focus of their work or the main goals of his cabinet, except that special attention will be paid to the reform of the health sector and financial stability. Even in these areas, he didn’t provide any concrete details. 

“We have proved that we can talk ... now it is time to start working... and deliver results,” Sarec, told parliament ahead of the vote, Reuters reported.

“Again an unserious approach. He didn’t have a manifesto … His election campaign indicated that his answer to any question on how he would resolve something was always ‘by working on it’. He didn’t have a programme and still doesn’t have one. That concerns many Slovenians and negatively affects his support,” said Videtic. 

“Floccules like those we now call ‘Sarecism’,” he added. 

On a more positive note, even though the previous government was rejected by the electorate — Cerar’s SMC and its junior partners the SD and DeSUS jointly took below 25% of the vote — most of them have significantly more political experience than Sarec and his party’s members,  which may bring some effectiveness to the new government. 

Cerar, SD leader and outgoing Minister of Agriculture Dejan Zidan and DeSUS leader and outgoing Minister of Foreign Affairs Karl Erjavec are all set to be senior members of the new cabinet. 

In the new Slovenian government, Cerar will serve as minister of foreign affairs. Erjavec will lead the ministry of defence, while Zidan is parliament speaker. The head of the fifth coalition partner SAB, Alenka Bratusek, became the minister of infrastructure. Andrej Bertoncelj, a professor at the University of Primorska and a doctor of economics, was appointed minister of finance.