All 90 members of the National Assembly (Državni zbor) were up for reelection. 88 of the National Assembly’s 90 members are elected by proportional representation, with a 4% national threshold. The country is subdivided into eight electoral constituencies (electing 11 members each), which are then further subdivided into 11 electoral districts. The seat allocation between the parties who passed the threshold is done nationally, following the d’Hondt method, but the individual parliamentarians are chosen in the constituencies – and, in principle, each district should have one member representing it (but this is not the case) – using the Droop quota. The Italian and Hungarian minorities each elect one MP, who is elected by ranked voting using the Borda count. The Italian and Hungarian minorities are not the largest ethnic minorities in the country – the Serbian, Croatian and Bosniak minorities are significantly larger – but these communities have substantial privileges including language use and representation in the National Assembly by members with a veto power over legislation affecting their communities. This year, about 2,600 Italians and 6,200 Hungarians were eligible to elect their representatives; they also have the right to vote for the other 88 members of the National Assembly.
Slovenia is ‘incompletely bicameral’ – there is a kind of upper house, the National Council (Državni svet), which is a corporatist-type body representing social, economic, professional and local interest groups. The 40 members represent local interests (22), the non-commercial sector including education, healthcare, research, culture/sports and social care (6), employees (4), employers (4) and farmers/craftsmen (4), all being indirectly elected to five-year terms by Slovenian residents (not only citizens!) working in those sectors or, in the case of local representatives, by municipal councillors. The National Council may advise the National Assembly to pass or initiate a bill, give the National Assembly its opinion, require the National Assembly to reconsider a bill one last time (suspensive veto), call a referendum and hold inquiries.
Slovenia has a rather developed system of direct democracy. According to the most recent rules, 40,000 citizens may petition to hold a referendum on legislation and the legislation is rejected if a majority of voters reject it and 20% of registered voters reject it. These new rules are a reaction to the (very) low turnout in most of these referendums, which in the past had allowed 20% of the electorate or so to hold final say on important pieces of legislation.
Slovenia followed a rather unusual and distinctive path compared to other former communist states in the former Yugoslavia and Eastern Europe in general. Compared to other Yugoslav republics, there was next to no conflict or civil war following the declaration of independence and the country has remained a peaceful and stable country. Compared to most former communist states, Slovenia quickly became a robust liberal democracy. Finally, there was no ‘shock therapy’, messy mass privatizations or economic restructuring in Slovenia. However, since 2004, many of the features which made Slovenia rather unique compared to its neighbors have been lost. Politically, for example, Slovenes were remarkably pro-incumbent in the 1990s but since 2008 or so, Slovenian politics have become very volatile.
Slovenia had never been an independent state prior to independence in 1991. The territory of present-day Slovenia was disputed between the great powers (Italy, Austria, Germany) until 1945, when Slovenia became a republic within socialist Yugoslavia. It was Yugoslavia’s wealthiest, most developed and advanced republic which punched above its weight (it generated about 20% of the Yugoslav GDP while making up only 8% of the SFRY’s population) and enjoyed a fairly comfortable position in Socialist Yugoslavia. In the 1980s, Slovenia – including the Slovene Communists (LCS) became concerned by the rise of Serbian nationalism, while an active civil society and human rights groups clashed with the communist regime and strongly opposed the actions of Slobodan Milošević in Serbia and Kosovo. As tensions rose, the reformist leadership of the League of Communists under Milan Kučan reacted, in September 1989, by passing constitutional amendments which turned Slovenia into a parliamentary democracy and foreshadowed future events by recognizing the republic’s right to unilateral secession. In April 1990, the Slovene opposition – a diverse bunch grouped in the Democratic Opposition of Slovenia (DEMOS) coalition – defeated the reformed ex-communists (Party of Democratic Renewal) with around 51% of the vote, but Milan Kučan was elected President, defeating a DEMOS candidate. Lojze Peterle, from the Christian Democrats (SKD), became Prime Minister of a five-party cabinet.
Slovenia declared its independence on June 25, 1991 – the first republic, followed within hours by Croatia, to secede from the SFRY and trigger the breakup of the multinational state. The Yugoslav military attempted to regain control of the republic, but was forced to withdraw from Slovenia after ten days of fighting (which claimed few casualties, compared to subsequent bloody conflicts in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo). Because of its geographic location, the relative ethnic homogeneity (Slovenia is largely ethnically Slovene, lacking the Serbian minorities which were found in Croatia, Bosnia, Kosovo and Montenegro) and Milošević’s interest in other issues, Slovenia gained its independence quickly and with little bloodshed.
The DEMOS coalition soon unraveled under the weight of differences between the parties, and Peterle’s government fell in May 1992. Janez Drnovšek became Prime Minister. Drnovšek came from the Liberal Democratic Party, which began Liberal Democracy of Slovenia (LDS) in 1994, a party which emerged from the Union of Socialist Youth of Slovenia, a youth organization which strayed from the old regime’s line quickly and embraced democracy, human rights and civil liberties. In 1990, the LDS had won 14.5%, making it the second largest single party. Drnovšek formed his first coalition government with parties from the opposition (the post-communist Party of Democratic Renewal, which would become the United List of Social Democrats; the Socialist Party, which merged with the LDS in 1994) and the old DEMOS (the Social Democratic Party of Slovenia, or SDS, which would shift hard to the right after 1993 under the leadership of prominent former dissident Janez Janša; the Democratic Party and the Greens, both of which would collapse soon). In December 1992, Drnovšek was reelected, with the LDS placing first with 23.5% and 22 seats (+10). Drnovšek formed a Grand Coalition with the Christian Democrats, the United List (which left in January 1996) and the SDS (which left in 1994, after Janša was forced to resign from his defense portfolio following a military scandal). In the 1996 elections, the LDS was further strengthened, winning 27% and 25 seats. The right-wing opposition, however, gained in strength: the SDS placed third with 16% and gained 12 seats, while the right-wing agrarian Slovenian People’s Party (SLS), whose name referred to the pre-war SLS, a clerical conservative party which dominated Slovene politics under Austrian and later Yugoslavian rule (although the SKD was the actual successor party to the pre-war SLS!), won 19.4% and gained 9 seats to become the second largest party. Drnovšek held on to government by a whisker, forming a coalition with the SLS and the new Democratic Party of Pensioners of Slovenia (DeSUS). In 2000, Drnovšek’s cabinet fell after the SLS withdrew from the government, and instead shifted support to a right-wing coalition led by Andrej Bajuk, made up of the SLS+SKD (in the process of merging) and the SDS. However, the government lasted barely five months, collapsing after the government sought to push through a new electoral system (in 1996, in a referendum, voters voted in favour of a two-round system but the government disregarded the result, until 1998, when the Constitutional Court ruled that the referendum was valid, a decision ignored until the new right-wing government took over in 2000), but the SLS+SKD caucus rebelled and voted against the change. Bajuk later left the SLS and founded his own splinter party, New Slovenia (NSi). In the October 2000 elections, the LDS won a record-high 36.3% and 34 seats, against 14 for the SDS and 11 for the United List; the SLS+SKD lost 20 seats, winning only 9 (against 8 for Bajuk’s NSi). Drnovšek formed another Grand Coalition, with the United List, SLS+SKD, DeSUS and the Youth Party (SMS), which governed until Drnovšek was elected President in 2002 and replaced by Anton Rop.
The LDS governed Slovenia between 1992 and 2004, with the exception of five months in 2000, and its electoral support increased consistently throughout the 1990s. This is, of course, in stark contrast with the patterns of anti-incumbency found in many other former communist states (Bulgaria). The LDS era was characterized by several notable aspects, which defined Slovenia as fairly unique: a moderate and consensual government which focused on EU-NATO integration and diversifying trading partners, a gradualist approach to economic reform (no ‘shock therapy’ or messy mass privatizations of parastatals), the domination of politics and the economy by a reformist ex-communist elite (while the right represented, largely, the disenfranchised and upstarts who were outside the elite) and high levels of social dialogue with social partners (employers, employees, the state) similar to a German model. The results were mixed: Slovenia became a well-functioning, affluent and egalitarian liberal democracy which did not suffer from the post-Cold War upheavals faced by other Eastern Bloc countries and peacefully overcame its communist legacy. The country experienced several years of stable 3-5% economic growth after 1990, high levels of employment protection, low inequality (it has one of the lowest Gini index in the world, after the Scandinavian states) and Slovenia had strong labour unions into the post-communist era. In 2004, Slovenia became the first former Yugoslav republic to join the EU and NATO, and in 2007 it was the first ex-communist state to join the Eurozone. Slovenia is the wealthiest of the former communist states in the EU – its GDP per capita is 84% of the EU average (it also ranks above Greece and Portugal on this measure).
Politics under LDS rule rested on robust social dialogue with social partners, which played a considerable role in the formulation and approval of economic and social policy – notably through the quasi-compulsory Economic and Social Council (made up of representatives from unions, employers’ organizations and the government), which worked in tandem with Parliament on matters such as labour laws, contracts, wages, insurance, employment policy and job security. Other similar boards dealt with pensions and healthcare. The government’s gradualist approach towards reform meant that privatization was slow, gradual and incomplete – the state retained control of several sectors; foreign investment was low; several sectors – such as banking and financial services – were inefficient and corrupt; structural reforms were diluted and political immobilism was commonplace under the LDS’ Grand Coalitions. The consensual and ‘boring’ political system and elite reproduction under LDS rule led to rent-seeking behaviour and corruption. With the current economic crisis and the banking crisis in Slovenia, many have suggested that state control of the three major banks and flawed corporate governance poisoned by insider trading and cozy relations with the economic elite are the cause of Slovenia’s economic troubles.
Drnovšek’s election to the presidency in 2002, a largely ceremonial and soft-power office, was the LDS’ last hurrah. The LDS suffered its first defeat, at the hands of NSi, in the l0w-turnout 2004 EP elections and in October 2004, the LDS lost the general election to Janez Janša’s SDS (renamed Slovenian Democratic Party, to finally break all ties with the SDS’ centre-left roots, in 2003). The SDS won 29.1% and 29 seats against 22.8% and 23 seats for the LDS, with the Social Democrats (SD, renamed from United List) remaining a weak third with 10.2% and 10 seats. Janša formed a right-wing coalition with the socially conservative/clerical NSi (9.1% and 9 seats), agrarian SLS (6.8%, 7 seats) and DeSUS (4%, 4 seats). Janša’s first government, the first government to last for the Assembly’s entire four-year term since Drnovšek’s second cabinet (1992-1996), represented a sea-change in Slovenian politics – a shift towards more adversarial and polarized politics, with a decline in social dialogue and political consensus. Under Janša, the unions and employers’ organizations lost their influence in the social dialogue process, which began breaking down under the weight of Janša’s poor relations with them. Membership in employers’ organizations became voluntary, the Economic and Social Council declined in influence and the unions/employers’ organization became less relevant and lost legitimacy in the eyes of their members. Janša came into office with a neoliberal agenda, promising privatizations, deregulation and economic reforms which would break with the LDS era. Once in office, he moved quickly – too quickly, perhaps – to shake up the economy and public sector (his ‘cadre tsunami’ to break socioeconomic power networks was controversial), but the government veered towards economic populism as it chose to ride the wave of economic growth which followed EU membership (5.8% in 2006, 7% in 2007) and did not build budget surpluses. Janša became a polarizing politician – in a way, the modern Janša is very reminiscent of Berlusconi – he has a strong base of supporters who see in him a strong leader and buy into his anti-communist rhetoric, while his opponents see him as arrogant and abrasive. He proved to be quite off-putting to voters in his first term. The right’s candidate, Lojze Peterle, lost the 2007 presidential runoff 32% to 68% to Danilo Türk, the left-wing candidate.
The 2008 elections saw major changes to the political system. Since its defeat in 2004, the LDS – a terrible fit in opposition after having been a party of power – collapsed, with weak leadership (Katarina Kresal, who was largely unknown) and divisions – Gregor Golobič, a former adviser to Drnovšek, became leader of the social liberal splinter party Zares in 2007; former Prime Minister Anton Rop and others joined the Social Democrats; President Drnovšek became a hippie (quite literally) in 2005 and left the LDS. Instead, the 2008 election turned into a battle between Janša’s SDS and the Social Democrats, led since 1997 by the ‘third way’ centrist Borut Pahor. Just a few weeks prior to the vote, the Finnish public broadcaster Yle aired an investigation which alleged that Slovenian defense ministry officials and Janša had received €21 million in bribes for a €278 million arms contract with Finnish weapons company Patria (in which the Finnish government has a majority stake) for an armored vehicles contract in 2006. Janša denied all accusations and went ballistic – the government sued the Finnish journalists, tried to pressure the Finnish government to intervene with Yle, claimed that he was the victim of a political witch-hunt and insinuated that there was conspiracy between the Finnish and Slovenian Social Democrats to discredit him.
Borut Pahor’s SD narrowly won the 2008 election, winning 30.5% and 29 seats against 29.3% and 28 seats for the SDS. Zares placed third with 9.4% and 9 seats, easily beating out the LDS, which barely saved itself by winning 5.2% and 5 seats. Pahor formed a left-leaning coalition with Zares, the LDS and DeSUS (which was making a place for itself as the kingmaker, and a party which punched above its weight). His government coincided with the beginning of the economic crisis, which hit Slovenia particularly hard. In Slovenia, the crisis came from the banks – bankers lent large sums to friends in business, who used the cash to buy the companies they ran using assets as collateral, which meant that banks were stuck with mounting loses on their loans and high levels of non-performing loans (Slovenia, in 2013, had the third highest ratio of non-performing loans in the Eurozone after Greece and Ireland, at 17%). In 2009, Slovenia’s GDP collapsed by 7.9% and grew by only 1.3% in 2010 and 0.7% in 2011. Unemployment increased from 4% in 2008 to nearly 9% when Pahor’s government left office at the end of 2011. The deficit soared from 2% of GDP in 2008 to 8% in 2009, although it fell back to 4.1% of GDP by 2011. Slovenia’s low public debt increased from 22% to 47% during Pahor’s administration. Pahor presented an unpopular agenda of austerity measures (wage and pension freezes, cuts in social benefits), structural reforms (pensions, healthcare, labour laws) and institutional adjustments, which he was determined to move along quickly. Despite claims to the contrary, the tradition of social partnership hardly improved during Pahor’s government.
Pahor’s main success was the arbitration of a border dispute with Croatia, which had been delaying Croatia’s accession to the EU. The old dispute concerned land and water control in the small Bay of Piran, which is Slovenia’s only access to the sea, and Slovenia’s lack of access to international waters. The right, which decried a ‘pro-Croatian capitulation’ (Janša and other right-wing parties have often made nationalist and irredentist claims), forced a referendum on the issue in June 2010, which was narrowly ratified by 51.5% of voters on 42.7% turnout.
Pahor’s undoing proved to be a pension reform in 2010, which the IMF had said was necessary for the country, whose aging population and economy demanded a long-overdue reform of the pension system. The Pahor government acted with excessive haste and without any constructive dialogue with social partners. The reform increased the retirement age from 63 (men)/61 (women) to 65 (for all), rejigged the pension benefit formula and changed rules to access private pensions. The unions proved to be fairly dogmatically anti-reform, while Pahor’s coalition partner DeSUS voted against the pension reform and a budget which froze the indexation of pensions – the government only passed the bill with the support of the opposition SLS. DeSUS left the coalition in April 2011.
In 2011, the government lost a whole string of referendums. In April 2011, on 34% turnout, 80% voted against a new part-time work law which would have allowed unemployed people, students and pensioners to work up to 60 hours/month and 720 hours/year with lower pay, less employment rights, no annual leave, no severance pay and no sick/parental leave. In June 2011, on 40% turnout, voters rejected three laws by wide margins – first and foremost among then, the controversial pension reform. In June 2011, following the pension reform’s defeat at the polls, Zares left the coalition. By this point, Pahor’s government was extremely unpopular and the writing was on the wall, but Pahor desperately tried to cling to power for as long as he could. Zares, a flash in the pan, had been in freefall since 2009, when Zares leader Gregor Golobič was mixed up in a corruption scandal concerning investments he made in an IT company and misleading the public about his real role in that company during the 2008 campaign. The moribund LDS continued imploding in government, and the LDS’ leader and interior minister Katarina Kresal was indicted in a real estate scandal and was forced to resign from the cabinet in August 2011. Pahor was accused of sliding his feet on her case, likely because he was afraid that it would be his government’s demise. Indeed it was – in September 2011, Pahor was topped in a confidence vote, with only his party and the LDS voting for the government and the right and ex-coalition partners (DeSUS and Zares) voting against him.
The 2011 election saw further political upheavals, confirming that the post-2004/post-LDS era has been characterized by anti-incumbency, polarization and high levels of electoral volatility. The one constant remains Janez Janša, whose teflon-like ability to withstand attacks and scandals is quite remarkable. Like Silvio Berlusconi, Janša has become a love-or-hate figure in Slovenian politics – he has many opponents who see him as a corrupt, abrasive demagogue with scant respect for democratic institutions; at the same time, he maintains a high level of support. A part of it comes from Janša’s past: he left the communist movement in the mid-1980s and became a dissident journalist for the left-wing and hard-hitting Mladina news magazine. Janša wrote articles very critical of the Yugoslav military and arms contracts (ironically), and was arrested with three other journalists and an army sergeant in 1988 for exposing military secrets. His in camera military trial, conducted in Serbo-Croatian rather than Slovenian (which was illegal), and his sentencing to 18 months imprisonment (he served 6) led to a public outcry and became a rallying point for the anti-communist dissident movement (the Slovenian Spring), and precipitated the local communists’ shift towards reform. From this experience, Janša retains a high degree of hatred for then-communist boss Milan Kučan (Janša claims that Kučan agreed to the army’s request for his arrest).
The SDS was the favourite to win the 2011 election and its support remained rather stable throughout the campaign. The SDS’ campaign insinuated that austerity would be the order of the day, but it avoided shouting that from the rooftops and couched it in the rhetoric of job creation (by cutting taxes on businesses). Once again, however, Janša and the SDS were faced with the Patria case – in 2010, prosecutors had laid charges against Janša and a bribery trial began in September 2011, with five defendants including Janša and Austrian-Canadian middleman Walter Wolf, who had been identified by Yle as the man who handed out the money to the Slovenians. Once again, Janša claimed to be the victim of political persecution and that the case was designed to interfere with the election.
The 2011 election was the year of newcomers. Prime Minister Pahor’s SD had collapsed to single digits, although a late mini-surge edged them over the 10% line. Zares and LDS had both imploded. Two new parties attracted attention and significant support. On the centre-right, former Janša cabinet minister Gregor Virant founded the Civic List (LGV, later DL), a centre-right liberal party which initially excited a lot of voters and became a major contender. Virant’s momentum took a major blow after revelations that he had received thousands of euros in unemployment benefits while receiving salaries as a lecturer and consultant. The other new party was Positive Slovenia (PS), a new party founded and led by Zoran Janković, a wealthy businessman and popular mayor of Ljubljana (since 2006). Janković, who is of mixed Serbian and Slovene ancestry, was director of Mercator, the largest retail chain in Slovenia (with stores in other Balkan states), between 1997 and 2005 (when he was allegedly forced out by Janša). Janković became very popular as an independent mayor of Ljubljana, for redesigning the city core, improving public transit, building new apartments and a new stadium. In 2011, Janković was already facing corruption allegations, accused of using his mayoral powers to financially benefit his sons. PS is a centre-left, left-liberal or social democratic party; in 2011, Janković was supported by former President Milan Kučan, who is sometimes noted as being Janković’s political mentor.
It was a major surprise when Janković’s PS narrowly defeated the SDS, winning 28.5% and 28 seats against 26.2% and 26 seats for Janša. The governing parties, except single-issue DeSUS, all collapsed: the Social Democrats won 10.5% (10 seats), while LDS (1.5%) and Zares (0.7%) fell out of Parliament entirely. Gregor Virant’s list held on to 8.4% and won 8 seats, DeSUS won 7% and 6 seats, the SLS won 6.8% and 6 seats while NSi returned to Parliament with 4.9% and 4 seats (one academic analysis cited NSi’s vocal opposition to a new law which would allow for same-sex marriage in all but name). The far-right Slovenian National Party (SNS), a fixture of Parliament since 1992, won only 1.8% and lost all seats. Janković’s narrow victory owed to strong support in Ljubljana and tactical voting on the left against Janša; PS more or less replaced the S on the left of the spectrum.
As leader of the largest party, Janković was widely expected to become Prime Minister, likely in a left-liberal coalition with the SD, Virant and (of course) DeSUS. However, Janković was apparently unwilling to submit himself to the deal-making of coalition politics, so Virant withdrew his support from the potential government right before a coalition agreement was due to be officialized in January 2012, and Janković lost the parliamentary vote for Prime Minister. President Danilo Türk refused to appoint Janša as his alternative candidate (because Türk did not trust – or like – Janša and said he lacked legitimacy because of his indictment in the Patria scandal), despite Janša having formed a coalition around him with the support of Virant, DeSUS, the SLS and NSi. Instead, Janša was nominated as a candidate by his coalition in the National Assembly and received the support of the National Assembly at the end of January. Janša returned to power, at the helm of a right-wing coalition with the SLS, NSi, DeSUS and Gregor Virant’s Civic List.
Janša’s government came into power as the country was still battered by the economic crisis, and the coalition agreement was largely devoted to shoring up public finances by cutting public expenditures (notably public sector wages), speeding up privatizations and tackling corruption, but under the weight of king-maker DeSUS, pension reform was placed on the back-burner. To justify his austerity policies, Janša sounded an alarmist (but also rather realistic) note by publicly saying that, unless something was done, Slovenia would face a ‘Greek scenario’ – that is, a EU-IMF bailout. The government was forced to pump €380 million – or 1% of the country’s GDP – into the Nova Ljubljanska Banka, Slovenia’s largest bank and lender in July 2012. The Janša government planned to create a state holding company to speed up privatizations and to set up a ‘bad bank’ where the banks would deposit their bad loans.
As the country remained mired in recession (-2.5% in 2012, -1.1% in 2013), rising unemployment (9% in 2012, 10% in 2013), large deficits (-4% in 2012, -14.7% in 2013) and growing debt (54% in 2012, 72% in 2013), popular anger against austerity measures and especially an increasingly corrupt political elite reached boiling point. Several protests around the country between November 2012 and March 2013 gathered up to a few thousand demonstrators – they began as a local protest against the corrupt mayor of Maribor, but later became general protests against political corruption and austerity. Janša refused to even acknowledge their demands, claiming that protesters, the ‘left-wing media’ (he quickly became quite enamored with the term ‘left-wing fascism’) and education/cultural sectors were under the influence of the old communist regime or, his favourite boogeyman, the ‘Udbomafia’ (referring to UDBA, the secret police of Yugoslavia).
It was in this context that the presidential elections took place in November and December 2012. Incumbent President Danilo Türk, supported by PS and DeSUS, had had very bad relations with Janša and generally opposed the government’s austerity policies. He faced Milan Zver, an MEP supported by the SDS and NSi; and former Prime Minister Borut Pahor, who had lost the leadership of his party in June 2012 and moved to the right, preaching ‘national unity’ (read: get along better with Janša) in times of economic stress. Zver won only 24.3% in the first round and was eliminated; Pahor surprised by placing first, with 39.9%, against a paltry 35.9% for Türk, whose second place showing (when he was expected to place first) largely killed his campaign. Pahor, with the right and Janša’s support, trounced the incumbent in the runoff, winning 67.4% to 32.6%. However, turnout was below 50% in both the first and second rounds.
A complete mess
In early January 2013, the Commission for the Prevention of Corruption of the Republic of Slovenia’s report on party leaders’ assets was a massive bombshell which hit both the government and the opposition. The anti-corruption commission cleared all party leaders except two: Janša and Janković, who the commission said had both systematically and repeatedly broken the law. Janša was asked to explain the origin and use of €200,000 in income from an ‘unknown origin’ and failed to report a real estate deal and various other cases of failing to report his assets. Janković failed to report total assets of €2.4 million over 6 years to the commission and was asked to provide details on several financial transactions between his sons’ companies and companies doing business with the municipal government. Interestingly, the commission’s findings only touched the tip of the iceberg: Janša was on trial for the Patria affair and is alleged to have partook in various arms deal, while Janković is usually known for murky real estate deals and nepotism. Both men denied all the allegations – Janša came out swinging, accusing the commission of being illegitimate and politically motivated, while his party lashed out at the communists, UDBA spies and ‘left-wing fascists’ who were pursuing a campaign against their man; Janković was slightly less insane, but denied all corrupt activity and, like the Prime Minister, initially refused to resign. In the government, Janša’s ‘ally’ Gregor Virant called on both men to resign but was later found waffling on the issue with reports that Virant’s party (DL) was divided.
In mid-January, Janković ‘froze’ (rather than resign) his leadership of PS; a few days later, Virant took a stand and issued an ultimatum to Janša, which was predictably thrown out by the Prime Minister. On January 24, Virant walked out of the coalition and reduced the government to a minority. DeSUS and the SLS, two of the other four original coalition partners, also began making noise about leaving the cabinet, leaving Janša with only NSi, the most loyal of the SDS’ allies. In typical Janša style, instead of acting consensual to patch his coalition back together, he began dumping acid on Virant – making it clear that he was determined to cling to power, at all costs (in Slovenia, a resignation is usually an admission of guilt). However, the bottom fell out of the remnants of his government after February 22, when DeSUS quit the coalition and was followed, three days later, by the SLS. By that point, the opposition PS had been getting its act together, with acting president Alenka Bratušek calling for an interim government while the Social Democrats, leading in polls, were keener on snap elections. Faced with a no confidence vote, the SDS resorted to sexism – in a controversial tweet, the party vowed that a Bratušek government would last as long as her skirt.
On February 27, Janša lost a no-confidence vote 55 to 33 – with an hastily assembled coalition of the PS, SD, DL, DeSUS and most of SLS voting against Janša and installing Alenka Bratušek as Prime Minister. She formed a government with PS, SD, DL and DeSUS.
The government continued to be faced with the same problem: the economy, particularly Slovenia’s banking sector and the persistent speculation that Slovenia would be the next Eurozone member to need a bailout from the Troika. Unlike Janša, Bratušek remained insistent that Slovenia was not ‘the next Greece’ and that the country would not require a bailout. Despite vague promises to be more ‘pro-growth’ than Janša had been, Bratušek’s government – pressured by the EU and IMF – had little choice but to continue her predecessors’ austerity policies, although with the focus being on raising taxes and privatization. The government raised the VAT by 2%, but a new real estate tax was nixed by the Constitutional Court; it also laid out plans for the privatization of the Nova Kreditna Banka Maribor (the second-largest bank), Telekom Slovenije, Ljubljana airport and Adria Airways.
A crucial moment for the government was an external stress test on the banking sector’s bad loan crisis. In December 2013, the review found that the Slovenian banking system had a total capital shortfall of €4.8 billion and the government was required to pump €3.2 billion to recapitalize the three main banks. The cost of recapitalizing the three main banks was equivalent to 10.3% of the small country’s GDP, and explains the large deficit in 2013 (14.7% of GDP). The country seems to have narrowly avoided a bailout, and there are early signs that recovery may finally be on the horizon: the credit rating outlook was raised to ‘stable’ in May, and the EC is now projecting 0.8% growth in 2014 and the reduction of the deficit to 3.1% by 2015, although unemployment will remain at 10% for some time to come.
In June 2013, a court found Janša (and two other men) guilty in the Patria case and sentenced him to 22 months in prison. The decision was appealed, but in the meantime, Janša became increasingly detached from reality and his rants became even more amusing – the usual boogeyman of the ‘Udbomafia’, ‘left-wing fascism’, the communists, and an international decades-long communist conspiracy against Janša; a bizarre tweet from Janša saying that the DEMOS candidate in the 1990 presidential elections actually got far more votes than the official tally indicates (implying that Milan Kučan was an impostor and that Slovenian elections are probably rigged by the communists) and deciding to unearth old illegal activities of the UDBA to smear Kučan. In fact, the use of the state archives – particularly those records dealing with the communist period – has become something of an obsession for the SDS, after the government passed a law providing for the anonymisation of personal data of people working for and victims of the Yugoslav-era secret services (which did indeed include some questionable and controversial points), which the SDS claimed would allow for excessive redaction. The party’s critics point out that the SDS got in hot water in 2011, after party cadres were caught red-handed fooling around with archives documents in a bid to concoct documents which would tie then-President Türk to a 1970s secret police op in Carinthia, meaning that the SDS’ archive obsession was motivated by petty partisan objectives. The SDS, in any event, successfully collected 40,000 signatures for a referendum on the archive law, the first held under the stricter quorum referendum laws – held on June 8 between the EP election and the general election, 11.7% (or barely 200,000) of voters showed up and two-thirds rejected the law, but the new rules invalidates the results.
Meanwhile, in the main ruling party – PS – Janković slowly broke with Bratušek beginning in August 2013, culminating in October with Janković announcing that he would run for the presidency of the party. The party’s founder and suspended leader did not attack Bratušek directly, but claimed that he was doing this to bring PS – which, by the way, was very low in polls – to its original, more left-wing, roots after the harsh experience of power with the Bratušek government. Although the PS congress was finally delayed till April 2014, Janković’s return to the forefront of party politics opened up yet another coalition crisis. All three junior coalition partners, who had agreed to team up with Bratušek earlier in the year only in exchange for Janković clarifying that he was indeed resigning, immediately indicated that they would leave the government if Janković returned as PS leader.
It was a tough contest. On the one hand, Janković is far more charismatic and ‘politician-like’ than Bratušek, who is more of a colourless technocrat. On the other hand, Janković faced several challenges – he had lost the support of former President Milan Kučan and in February 2014 he was indicted over a scandal related to the new stadium in Ljubljana. However, on April 26, Janković won the PS leadership against Bratušek (422-338). True to her word, she resigned as Prime Minister quickly thereafter (realizing that she could not have realistically hoped to hold on, given that relations with Virant already weren’t so swell) and it turned out that Virant et al weren’t bluffing – they reiterated that they would not work with Janković, opening the way for snap elections. The PS, which was already polling very low, divided in the aftermath of the congress, with 13 deputies staying with PS and 11 splitting to form their own group.
Around the same time, the high court upheld the court’s ruling on Janša and the Patria case. Since June 20, Janša is serving a 22-month jail sentence. Predictably, the SDS’ reaction to these developments have been rather interesting: on his Twitter account, Janša’s bio blurb reads ‘political prisoner during Yugoslav 1989 and SLO 2014 communist regime’; the SDS claimed that these elections would not be free and fair; and the English version of SDS’ website includes articles about ‘communist justice’, the ‘leftist government intimidating the opposition [etc] with fabricated court proceedings’ and a grand claim that Slovenia is controlled by a communist network of oligarchs led by Milan Kučan. Apparently, ‘free Janez Janša’ and – gasp – ‘#freeJJ‘ are now things.
The messy political situation was further complicated by the creation of new parties. On the left, activists from civil society and the 2012-13 protest movement founded, in late 2013, Solidarnost (Solidarity), which is anti-neoliberal and made vague noises about strengthening democracy. Also on the left, the former President of the Court of Auditors, Igor Šoltes, founded Verjamem (I believe), which largely talked about change, political reform and ethics with a lot of flowery and feel-good rhetoric. Šoltes, who is the grandson of Slovene communist leader Edvard Kardelj, had been in contention earlier in 2014 for the health ministry, but SD scuttled his nomination. On the radical left, three minor parties (the Initiative for Democratic Socialism, founded in 2014; Party for the Sustainable Development of Slovenia, founded in 2011; and the Democratic Labour Party, founded in 2010) got together in March 2014 to form the United Left (ZL). The new coalition, often compared to the Greek SYRIZA and which supported Alexis Tsipras’ ‘candidacy’ in the 2014 EP elections, defines its ideology as ‘democratic ecological socialism’. Its platform is anti-austerity, anti-neoliberal and anti-privatization; it supported higher taxes on the rich, workers’ self-management, public oversight of banks, an audit of the debt, Eurobonds, defending the welfare state, direct democracy, environmental transformation, minority rights (including LGBT rights) and – its last plank – demanded that Germany pays Slovenia €3.5 billion in war debt for World War II.
It was in this context that the first election – by far the least important one – was held, to elect Slovenia’s MEPs. It was pretty much a non-campaign, with no mention of EU issues and all attention focused on the EP elections as a dress rehearsal for the July 13 legislative elections.
Turnout: 24.55% (-3.82%)
MEPs: 8 (nc from Lisbon)
Electoral system: Semi-open list PR, no threshold (national constituency)
SDS (EPP) 24.78% (-1.88%) winning 3 seats (nc)
SLS-NSi (EPP) 16.6% (-3.56%) winning 2 seats (+1)
Verjamem! (G-EFA) 10.33% (+10.33%) winning 1 seat (+1)
DeSUS (ALDE) 8.12% (+0.94%) winning 1 seat (+1)
SD (S&D) 8.08% (-10.35%) winning 1 seat (-1)
PS 6.63% (+6.63%) winning 0 seats (nc)
ZL (GUE/NGL) 5.47% (+5.47%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Jelko Kacin (ALDE) 4.92% (-6.56%) winning 0 seats (-1)
SNS 4.03% (+1.18%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Sanjska služba 3.54% (+3.54%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Pirates 2.56% (+2.56%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Solidarnost 1.67% (+1.67%) winning 0 seats (nc)
DL (ALDE) 1.14% (+1.14%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Zares (ALDE) 0.95% (-8.81%) winning 0 seats (-1)
Greens (G-EFA) 0.83% (+0.1%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Slovenski narod 0.36% (+0.36%) winning 0 seats (nc)
There were many losers in the EP elections. The biggest of them were the Social Democrats (SD), who, notwithstanding their lead in polls for most of 2013, received a major thumping and SD leader Igor Lukšič – who had controversially more or less imposed himself as the SD’ candidate in the EP election (and he got defeated personally by SD MEP Tanja Fajon, who got more preferential votes than he did) – was the main victim of the EP elections, being shown the door by his party’s executive. SD and Lukšič were caught woefully unprepared in the whirlwind of Slovenian politics which preceded the EP vote, with the disintegration of the government/PS and the emergence of several new parties on the left. The Slovenian liberal constellation, which has turned from dominant force to hopelessly divided and weak irrelevance, also did very poorly. Jelko Kacin, the incumbent MEP from the quasi-dead LDS, ran for reelection on his own independent list and won 4.9%. Zares lost its sole MEP, Ivo Vaigjl, to DeSUS (but he himself apparently forgot that, saying that he was a Zares candidate in a debate when in fact he was now with DeSUS), and the remnants of the flash-in-the-pan liberal party won only 1%. Gregor Virant’s Civic List (DL) won only 1.1%. As a result of their ass-whooping, the leaders of DL (Virant) and Zares both resigned. On the broader liberal-left, the only winners were the newcomers: Igor Šoltes, despite not having founded his party at the time, won third place with 10.3% and was elected to the EP. The United Left fell short, but 5.5% was a strong result for them.
The two main winners were the SDS and SLS-NSi (who ran a common list), although parties lost vote. The SLS-NSi common list was led by incumbent MEP and former Prime Minister Lojze Peterle. However, the only real winner was abstention – over three-quarters of Slovenes did not vote, which speaks volume both to the wider disinterest in EU affairs and the general disgust with the political leadership in Slovenia. Slovenia had one of the lowest turnouts in the EU.
The EP election was not even, in the end, a dress rehearsal for anything – because the game was turned upside down only a few days later, on June 2, with the creation of a new party – announced as Pahor formally dissolved the National Assembly for early elections on July 13. Miro Cerar, a distinguished law professor and recognized expert in constitutional law, who had previously been brought up as a potential technocratic ‘national unity’ Prime Minister in 2013 after Janša’s fall, founded his own party – the Miro Cerar Party (Stranka Mira Cerarja, SMC). Cerar also comes from a fairly famous family in Slovenia – his father, Miroslav Cerar, is a former Olympic gymnast who won gold on the pommel horse in Tokyo 1964 and Mexico City 1968; his mother, Zdenka Cerar, is a former youth gymnast who became prosecutor general and later justice minister for a few months in 2004. She was a member of the LDS.
The SMC immediately became the darling of Slovenian voters – an extremely vague anti-corruption, ‘pro-change’ party led by a respected individual, who managed to become what his different voters wanted him to be. Usually, running on platitudes only gets you so far, but in this context, Cerar deliberately went out of his way to keep the SMC as an ideology-free zone and to campaign entirely on platitudes and vague general stances. The party’s platform (in Slovenian) largely stated valence issues as political opinions and policy measures (better education, fighting corruption, efficient and responsive government and other general topics of the kind). It took moderate stances on contentious issues – it may support liberalizing the economy, but speaks only of ‘optimizing’ government and of ‘controlled’ privatization where vital infrastructure will remain with the state (one of the rare clear stances taken by the SMC was opposition to the privatization of Telekom Slovenije – although Cerar still said he’d only try to stop that if possible). In a concerted bid not to offend anyone at all, the SMC refused to sign a LGBT group’s pledge to support extending the full scope of rights enjoyed by heterosexual couples to homosexual couples – saying that they refused to back the human rights of ‘only specific groups’. With its platform and talk of bridging the left-right divide, the SMC appears to me as a Moderate Hero party – that is, a party which takes the middle ground on every issue just for the sake of appearing ‘moderate’ and ‘reasonable’ (and, in the case of the SMC, appealing broadly while offending few).
Around the same, caretaker Prime Minister Alenka Bratušek formalized her split from PS and founded her own party, the Alliance of Alenka Bratušek (ZaAB). Like the SMC, the ZaAB appears to be centrist and moderate, although obviously Bratušek is far less popular than Cerar and by being an established politician, it was harder for her to appeal broadly. ZaAB’s goal was to get into Parliament and/or to win more votes than the remnants of PS, led by Janković.
Turnout on July 13 was 51.73%, down from 65.6% in 2011. This is, by far, the lowest turnout in a legislative election in Slovenia since the fall of communism, with the previous low being 60.6% in 2004 and the record high being over 85% in 1992. This other aspect of the election results hasn’t been picked up much in the analysis – the election is notable not only for the results of the parties, but also for the fact that just under 49% of Slovenians did not vote in what is traditionally the highest-stakes elections in the country which brings out a large majority of voters. Slovenia’s political elites – but also other social actors, including the Catholic Church (already unpopular with some for its thinly-veiled endorsements of Janša, it has faced major financial scandals), trade unions, the judiciary – have lost a lot of their legitimacy, as they appear to be either incompetent or corrupt (or both at the same time) while the collapse of the LDS era social order poses several challenges to Slovenian governments (which have generally failed to respond to them adequately).
SMC 34.49% (+34.49%) winning 36 seats (+36)
SDS 20.71% (-5.48%) winning 21 seats (-5)
DeSUS 10.18% (+3.21%) winning 10 seats (+4)
SD 5.98% (-4.54%) winning 6 seats (-4)
ZL 5.97% (+4.1%) winning 6 seats (+6)
NSi 5.59% (+0.71%) winning 5 seats (+1)
ZaAB 4.38% (+4.38%) winning 4 seats (+4)
SLS 3.95% (-2.88%) winning 0 seats (-6)
PS 2.97% (-25.54%) winning 0 seats (-28)
SNS 2.20% (+0.4%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Pirates 1.34% (+1.34%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Verjamem! 0.78% (+0.78%) winning 0 seats (nc)
DL 0.64% (-7.73%) winning 0 seats (-8)
Others 0.83% (-3.22%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Italian and Hungarian minorities winning 2 seats (nc)
The huge winner of the election was Miro Cerar and the SMC, who took 34.5% and 36 seats – that’s the second highest vote share for a party in Slovenia’s democratic history (the LDS won 36% in 2000) and the highest seat count for a single party in any election (in 2000, LDS won 34 seats). Cerar’s remarkable victory owes to what he represented to a lot of people – a respected, modest, introverted and well-known public figure (but not politician) who was completely untainted (by corruption or the unpopularity of previous governments), a political novice who can overcome the political stalemate and polarized political system in place since 2004. In other words, an inspirational figure who offers an attractive (but undefined) idea of ‘change’ and ‘reform’ – while being reasonable, intelligent – and a break with the discredited political elite.
As noted above, Cerar deliberately strove to be an ideology-free zone, who offered a nice mix of flowery rhetoric, soft populism and vague objectives to strive towards. Although many people not totally sold with Cerar rightly pointed out that he took very few specific stances on the issues and avoided addressing the tough questions, it must be understood that this ambiguity was calculated and is at the root of the SMC’s victory. As with other new parties, voters can project their own personal hopes and aspirations on Cerar and the SMC, and Cerar more or less offered them mirror reflections of these projections. Cerar won by such a large margin because he was able to be all things to everybody, appealing to the centre-left (in majority) and the centre-right.
The SDS took a major thumping – one which was quite a bit bigger than most people had expected. It’s the party’s worst result since 2000, when the SDS had won only 15.8%. The SDS has the most loyal electorate of all parties (and the pensioners’ DeSUS, unsurprisingly, has the second most loyal electorate), which explains why the SDS has remained a major party despite Janša’s general unpopularity and his countless travails. However, for a party with a supposedly solid core, the loss of over 5% from its 2011 result is quite spectacular. The party’s campaign was heavily focused on Janša, with regular demands that he be released from prison and loudly proclaiming that the elections weren’t free and fair in his absence, but that apparently did not convince the entirety of the SDS’ base. According to some transfer analysis here and here (dismiss the misleading headline), the SDS’ loses were largely to abstention – according to the first link, about 4.7% of the total 2011 electorate went from SDS to abstention in 2014. Even worse, perhaps, for the SDS is that some of their vote went to other parties (1.9% of the total 2011 electorate went from the SDS to the SMC).
The party dismissed the election results out of hand, saying – again – that the elections weren’t free and fair and, thus, the result was not legitimate. This news release, in English, from the SDS, is quite a read: it quickly shifts to comparing Janša’s fate to the arrest of opposition leaders in Iran, Ukraine, Belarus and Russia, detailing the various official visits by Slovenian officials to these countries (and China, for good measure), quoting Churchill on ‘the fascism of the new era’ being called anti-fascism, “the omnipresence of neo-communist ideology” in Slovenia, a weird line about “unbelievable media and capitalist monopoly”, saying that the next Prime Minister will be a Slovenian Lukashenko and a vow to “fight for the consequences of the illegitimate elections to be removed”. The SDS initially indicated that they may even boycott Parliament, but when they realized the implications thereof (and of their silliness), they did a U-turn. The SDS continues, for now, to be officially led from prison by Janez Janša, who interestingly was unable to vote but got a brief prison furlough to attend the inaugural session of Parliament. With Janša stuck in prison for the foreseeable short-term future, and the SDS in a weakened state, there is a chance that the party’s unity will begin cracking.
The Social Democrats were badly trounced, completing a collapse from 29 seats (2008) to a mere five seats in 2014. This result is even more incredible when you take into account that the SD actually led the polls for quite some time in 2013 and even early 2014, and were said to be one of the parties who would benefit from early elections as recently as in January. What happened next, however, confirms that left-wing voters were only parking their votes with SD for the time being, in the absence of a more convincing alternative. Before the SMC and ZL came up, the SD were basically the only option on the left – PS had been hurt by Janković and the austerity policies of the Bratušek government, and had nothing to offer to left-wing voters. The SMC, identified by most voters as being centre-left, had the strongest appeal to the centre-left which faced a dearth of options: PS was dead, Bratušek was now too centrist, SD was murdered in the EP election and were thoroughly unconvincing and uninspiring. The SMC’s surge also killed another party – Verjamem!, one of the main winners of the EP elections less than two months before, won only 0.8% of the vote. Verjamem, in the EP elections so at a much lower level, likely attracted left-wing voters who abandoned PS/SD, but these people then left in droves to back Cerar.
According to the aforecited poll numbers, the bulk of SMC’s support came from people who had voted PS or SD (or DL) in 2011 – RTVSLO reports that 29% of SMC’s voters had voted PS in 2011 and 25.5% had voted SD, compared to only 6% who had voted SDS. The SMC also gained some voters from people who hadn’t turned out in 2011. The geography of the result also confirms that the SMC won most centre-left votes: the party’s support was well distributed throughout the country, but won 37.6% in Ljubljana Centre constituency and 35.9% in Ljubljana Bežigrad constituency, which lean to the left, and also performed better in left-leaning urban areas (Maribor, Koper, Piran).
Another major winner (and it was quite surprising) on the left was the United Left (ZL), thanks to a strong debate performance from young co-leader Luka Mesec. ZL, from a small hard-left base which had voted for two of its current component parties in 2011, added defectors from PS and SD and some other parties.
One of the few existing parties to hold their ground very well was DeSUS, who actually won a record-high result of 10.2% and 10 seats, confirming DeSUS as the world’s strongest (and most influential) pensioners’ party. After the SDS, DeSUS has the second most loyal base, and DeSUS leader Karl Erjavec has a Teflon-like like ability to withstand several corruption allegations in the past and his reputation as less-than-stellar foreign minister under the outgoing government. With its position as the kingmaker in any government, left or right, DeSUS has carved a very strong place in the system for itself, and as a result of its very large influence, it has managed to defend its clientele (pensioners) well by opposing or watering down any pension reform in the past. As a niche party, it doesn’t have a very good reputation with those who don’t vote for it, being seen as opportunist and narrow-minded, but it has tremendous influence on governments.
On the right, the old SLS was thrown out of Parliament, falling just below the 4% threshold while NSi stayed put and won 5 seats. SLS lost votes to Cerar and abstention, while NSi attracted defectors from the SDS and DL.
Alenka Bratušek achieved what she had set out to achieve – to beat PS, which itself was thoroughly decimated, with the Janković-led rump taking only 3% of the vote, which is down over 25.5% from the 2011 election. Although Janković still managed around 5% of the vote in the capital, where he is still mayor, he faces a lot of troubles – both legal and political – in the future. With local elections coming up later this year, Janković, who hitherto had faced no serious challenge from the right or left to his municipal regime, now appears extremely vulnerable. What a difference three years can make…
As it so happens, the other of the ‘new parties’ from 2011 – Gregor Virant’s DL – was killed off, in even more spectacular fashion. Virant’s group, which isn’t even led by Virant since the EP election, collapsed to 0.6%. DL’s support had begun falling even before the 2011 election, and the party proceeded to collapse as it entered government and made a pretty bad impression as a junior partner. The old centrist, vaguely centre-left liberal family of Slovenian politics is definitely a pitiful shadow of its former self: Zares and LDS didn’t even bother running, DL is joining them in the dustbin of history, PS is also set on eventually joining them there in a few months/years, and only Bratušek’s alliance can be considered as representing the liberal centre/centre-left of Slovenian politics – although Miro Cerar is actually rather reminiscent of the old consensual, pragmatic, moderate and inoffensive liberal style which ruled Slovenia with the LDS and remains favoured by a lot of voters.
The hard work begins now for Cerar, who faces the difficult task of not squandering his victory and of transforming very vague promises into tangible action in the tough and thankless world of politics. He is Prime Minister-presumptive, and all the talk is that Cerar will form a coalition with DeSUS (technically, Cerar would have a thin majority in a small coalition only with DeSUS, but Erjavec would be too picky and dangerous in such a setup), SD and ZaAB. There is an outside chance that NSi could join as well. In one of his few clear pronouncements during the campaign, Cerar excluded a coalition with the SDS, although here again he was just reacting to Janša ruling out a coalition with Cerar. If he so chooses, Cerar also has the ability to keep DeSUS out and form a government with SD, ZaAB and maybe NSi, a coalition which would have the advantage of being less dependent on DeSUS and fulfilling his ‘uniting left and right’ mantra.
However, the new coalition-in-waiting (whatever it ends up being) has been facing its first problems over the partisan horsetrading and wrangling over Slovenia’s European Commissioner, in the new Juncker commission. Cerar has insisted that, as PM-presumptive, he should be actively involved and kept in the loop on this business, even though he has no legal standing as of yet and Slovenia remains governed by Bratušek’s caretaker cabinet. DeSUS has been playing hardball, demanding the office of speaker of the National Assembly (although that office has just gone to a SMC MP) and speculation that Erjavec would be interested in the Commissioner job. However, SD would like to put forward their MEP, Tanja Fajon, as their candidate for Brussels and Alenka Bratušek is also a likely contender, who may even be favoured by Brussels.
Once in office, Cerar will be dealing with a difficult reality: a fragile economy which has just begun recovering, a large debt and deficit, high unemployment, trust in politics and other institutions at very low levels and several corruption scandals involving politicians. His laudable aims, vague goals and feel-good objectives will need to adapt themselves to the reality of government. It remains to be seen if Cerar, a political novice, will have what it takes to be a successful politician and head of government. It also remains to be seen how far his party, whose appeal is wide but also rather fragile, can survive as it goes from a moderate, anti-establishment outsider party to being the party of government. New parties of this kind often tend to collapse as they lose their novelty and outsider/non-political status. Slovenian politics remain in an unpredictable and highly interesting state of flux…