Slovenian Prime Minister Miro Cerar unexpectedly resigned on March 14, a few months before the general election. Cerar announced his decision after the Supreme Court annulled the September 2017 referendum that gave the go-ahead to the country’s largest infrastructure project because of the use of budget funds to finance the government’s campaign.
As Cerar’s decision surprised everyone, it is still uncertain whether the elections will be brought forward from June. In any case, he will keep working until a new government is formed.
"It's a responsibility and I'm taking a decision that every trustworthy politician should take in such a situation. In the election you will judge between right and wrong and who deserves your support," he said, addressing voters, Slovenian Press Agency (STA) reported.
Despite the importance of the €1bn project to expand the rail link between the port of Koper and the inland hub of Divaca, there is speculation that Cerar may have stepped down to boost his chances in the upcoming election.
In pre-election opinion polls Cerar’s centre-left Party of Modern Centre is trailing behind three other parties, according to Reuters. The centre-left List of Marjan Sarec — the runner-up in last year’s presidential election who has never before run for parliament — is currently in the lead ahead of the opposition centre-right Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS).
But the setback for the Koper-Divaca railway expansion, which was championed by Cerar’s cabinet, is also a major setback in itself. It is strategically important for Slovenia as it connects the capital Ljubljana with the country’s sole Adriatic port, Koper. This is also the main maritime gateway for Hungary, handling over three-quarters of its container trans-shipments.
However, it has been facing opposition from some within the country. The biggest opponents of the project are lobby group Taxpayers Standing Our Ground and the SDS, who claim that it will cost too much.
Even though Cerar’s government secured support for the project in the referendum, an appeal against the project was filed by Vili Kovacic, a pensioner and the head of Taxpayers Standing Our Ground. Kovacic claimed that there were irregularities such as using budget funds to finance the referendum campaign, which influenced the outcome of the vote. The result was relatively narrow, with 53.47% voting for the law on the project, and 46.47% against.
On March 14, the Supreme Court upheld Kovacic’s view that by spending €97,000 in budget funds on the pro-campaign the government financed an "unacceptable one-sided campaign”, STA reported on March 14.
The supreme court judges echoed the position of the Constitutional Court, which said that the government should not have spent budget funds on the campaign. It found the government referendum campaign unacceptable because it "emphasised merely positive consequences of the implementation of the law and the negative ones resulting from the law's rejection, but not also potential risks of implementation”.
According to the Supreme Court, the Koper-Divaca law, which remains in limbo, should be endorsed in a referendum beyond any doubt about irregularities, so a re-vote must be taken, STA reported.
“This was the straw that broke the camel's back; the second track project has been hit by another blow, taken by those who want to stop Slovenia's positive development. I don't want to be part of such stories," Cerar said, STA reported.
He also told a news conference that his coalition partners had been trying for a long time to undermine projects, without naming specific parties or programmes, Reuters reported.
The government coalition, which took power in September 2014, includes Cerar’s Party of Modern Centre, the Social Democrats and pensioners’ party Desus.
A repeat vote on the Koper-Divaca law is expected within two months, STA quoted jurist Jurij Toplak, who helped draw up the appeal challenging the referendum at the Supreme Court.