Jansa on the verge of a comeback in Slovenia

Jansa on the verge of a comeback in Slovenia
Jansa addresses his party's 2018 convention.
By bne IntelliNews May 23, 2018

The largest opposition party in Slovenia, the Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS), has been leading polls ahead of the country’s June 3 parliamentary elections. 

The party led by controversial former prime minister Janez Jansa has been the loudest opposition to outgoing Prime Minister Miro Cerar’s government, trying to dismiss no less than six ministers within a year as well as initiating numerous no-confidence votes, albeit without success. 

A poll conducted by the agency Episcentar indicates the SDS will win over 25% of the vote — estimates range from the pollster’s “realistic” 25.6% and to an “optimistic” 28.3%. This would make it the largest party in the parliament though it would need to form a coalition to achieve a majority. 

This is despite Jansa’s chequered past. He was involved in one of the country’s largest scandals, the so-called Patria case, and charged with receiving bribes in connection with a deal with Finnish defence company Patria, though the charges were eventually dropped after the time limit for unfinished cases expired. Jansa was Slovenia’s prime minister from 2004 until 2008 and again in 2012 to February 2013, when he was dismissed in a no-confidence vote as the ruling coalition unravelled amid the growing Patria scandal. 

Even with the scandal hanging over him, Jansa’s party has consistently performed well in the polls in recent years. Miran Videtic, director at Slovenian Kamnik based management consulting company VI-PU, pointed out that being the winner of polls hasn’t meant Jansa going on to win elections. “But, this year it may easily happen mainly thanks to broken leftists … These elections are a game changer in Slovenia exactly because of the open question of who would be Jansa’s coalition partner. I believe it can be anyone except the Left Party (Levica) itself,” Vidatic told bne Intellinews.

The poll indicates that Slovenians actually wanted to see a new face on their political scene, as the newly formed List of Marjan Sarec has been placed third. Sarec, a former comic and journalist who has been mayor of the small town of Kamnik since 2010, made it to the second round of the 2017 presidential elections. Slovenian incumbent Borut Pahor — also known as “Barbie” because of his former career as a model — only narrowly defeated him on November 12. 

Currently, his list would gain the support of 14.7% of voters under the realistic scenario and a maximum of 23% under the optimistic scenario, according to Episcentar’s poll. This would make him a potential partner in government with Jansa, should the result on June 3 be in line with recent polls. 

“Sarec can even emerge to second place… and, yes, we can expect to see him as Jansa’s coalition partner because it would build him as political figure long-term even though he still doesn’t have a political programme. Also, his political future doesn’t exist if he misses a chance to become part of the government now,” Videtic said.

Privatisation a key issue

Currently second placed is the Social Democrats (SD) led by Minister of Agriculture Dejan Zidan, with support of between 16.1% and 21.9%. Zidan and his SD have an old-school stance still present throughout ex-Yugoslavian countries that private capital is bad for ordinary citizens. This is the main reason why he has large support among voters as Slovenians are known as a modern population which nonetheless still wants everything to remain in the government’s hands.

With the future of Slovenia’s largest bank Nova Ljubljanska Bank (NLB) still unclear, the privatisation issue is likely to play a large role in the upcoming election. 

Slovenes are split over whether they want assets like the bank sold off.  The latest poll, conducted on May 17 and 18, showed that the popularity of parties brave enough to openly advocate privatisation, including for NLB, has been on the rise as well. New Slovenia (NSi), for example, currently has four MPs and will likely increase that number since the poll indicates it has support from between 8.2% and 13.3% of the electorate, making it the fifth most popular party in the country. 

NSi changed its leadership in February when Ljudmila Novak, who served as its head for ten years, resigned. The party is now led by the youthful Matej Tonin, an MP since 2014 who also ran in the presidential race in 2017, finishing in fourth place. 

“This party is backed mainly by the Slovenian business community because it backs foreign investments and thus has a plan to improve the business climate and proceed with the privatisation. Talking about NLB, we have to do it, we have an obligation to the EU to do it and NSi is the only one who doesn’t offer a ‘deal’ on postponing or canceling the privatisation of NLB. And, it is more than clear that successful privatisation of NLB will be a sign for any further investment in this country,” Videtic said, adding that he believes that NSi would also join a Jansa-led government as Jansa also doesn’t oppose major privatisations in the country.

Meanwhile, according to Episcentar’s latest poll, the Left Party will likely manage to enter the parliament as it can count on 8.5%-12.4% support.

Cerar out of favour 

What is surprising from Episcentar’s polls is that Cerar’s SMC seems set to barely make it into the next parliament. Its share of the vote could be anywhere from 5.6% — just past the threshold to enter the assembly — to as high as 13.2%. During Cerar’s mandate the country’s economy emerged from contractions in 2012 and 2013, reaching 5% growth in 2017. However, Cerar stepped down after a court ruled that his government had broken campaign rules ahead of the 2017 referendum on the expansion of the Koper-Divaca railway. 

“I am not surprised!” Videtic commented on the fall in Cerar’s popularity. “Cerar’s mandate was a four-year period of lost opportunities. Let’s not lie to each other, the Slovenian economy relies on EU. The overall EU economy and of all its members emerged, and thus Slovenian exports, which is the main driver of our economy. 

“Cerar struggled a lot with his coalition partners who most of the time played as his main opposition and he had to deal with that instead with other things. The entire mandate was full of scandals and this is the price… We shouldn’t forget the minister of foreign affairs and coalition partner Karl Erjavec, who hasn’t had a clear stance, and almost made us into a Russian gobernia, 14 years after we became an EU and Nato member… and, it is not news that Cerar is a progressive and indeed a modern European,” Videtic concluded, adding that one more shot to Cerar’s knees from his coalition partner was Erjavec’s ‘solo initiative’ that Slovenia should recognise Palestine.

The foreign minister’s actions don’t appear to have won him much support however. Erjavec’s Desus is, according to Episcentar’s poll, just below the 5% threshold at 4.9%, according to the realistic scenario, though it could reach 6.8%.