Slovenia: a new president and everything around

For many reasons the past weeks have been probably those defining the rest of the mandate of the current government under Prime Minister Janša. The most obvious reasons are three:

  1. The election of a new President and the campaign around it.
  2. The referendum on the partial privatization of the insurance company “Triglav� that the government badly lost.
  3. PM Janša’s appearance in the Parliament and the vote of confidence.

All three would be too much to deal with in one post, so let’s focus on the first one mainly.

The elections for the new President were held in two rounds, the last one on the 11th November. In the first round the main contenders were three: Lojze Peterle, Mitja Gaspari and Danilo Türk. Peterle launched his campaign already in 2006. It was a very visually rich campaign, with plenty of travel, public events, support from abroad etc. Peterle was mostly supported by the parties currently in the government (SDS, NSI and SLS).Gaspari was more reserved about the value of the campaign, almost giving the impression of detesting the public performances. As a former governor of the Central Bank and finance minister he was perceived by most a an intellectual with limited rethorical skills. His name appeared often in the media recently because PM Janša’s government didn’t prolong his mandate as governor for the second term. He was backed by the Liberal Democrats. Danilo Türk entered the campaign as an outsider, supported by the Social Democrats, DESUS (the pensioneers’ party) and the newly formed party Zares (with Gregor Golobič as President). A bit in the shadow of Pahor’s decision not to run, Türk was not supposed to interfere with the strong runners… On the top, there was Zmago Jelinčič, the President of the Nationalist Party (SNS). Supported by his own party, he ran on xenophobic slogans.

What happened?

Peterle won the first round by a disappointingly narrow margin of 4% over the second runner Türk, who was only few votes ahead of Gaspari, both getting some 24%. Jelinčič got an impressive 20%. The second round provided Türk with an impressive win of 68%. Such a turnaround is worth a bit of attention, since it might signalize the Parlimantary elections next autumn.

Peterle was perceived as a done deal as President after Pahor stepped out of the race earlier in the autumn. He was well ahead in all the polls and there was even the speculation he will win in the first round. His campaign was impressive – financially and organisationally. Websites everywhere, videos, debates, visits…concerts and more. As ever to me Peterle was short of decent content, but was attractive as a person close to the “people�. Then Gaspari and Türk entered the race, in a move that appeared as a split on the centre-left.

The more the campaign progressed, the more ground both Gaspari and Türk were covering. Gaspari as a credible intellectual with relatively strong opinions in comparison with the rest. Türk as an outsider, clean of Slovenian politics, with a very mild manners and sophisticated wording. Peterle was losing ground and getting nervous. The interesting bit started after the first round.

Until after the first round Peterle was doing fine and was well distanced from the support of the currently governing coalition. He was also quite successful in distancing himself from his political past, which was ideologically unhelpful to his campaign for President. He changed the strategy radically in the last weeks, be it because he was forced to do it, or on his own initiative.

In the light of the strong performance of a “no-nameâ€? candidate Türk, Peterle was forced to go on the offensive. He openly questioned Türk’s role during the struggle for independence of Slovenia. His argument was that while he was “walking around with his head in the bagâ€? fighting for the independence, Türk was working comfortably in Geneva for the UN representing Yugoslavia. Besides convincing the convinced, he angered most of the rest. He has been claiming that he wants to “focus on the futureâ€?, but he started to dig back into 1990s. The PM Janša and the Foreign Minister Rupel stepped into the campaign, both supporting Peterle, but seemingly driving even more voters aways. Peterle appeared nervous, angry and non-presidential.

On the other side, Türk answered the claims calmly, precising his role during the independence. Even if that was smaller than Peterle’s, he gave his contribution, full stop. Besides this issue, there were no substantial matters of debate during the last part of the campaign. As said eariler, Türk got to an impressive win of 68% over Peterle’s 32%.

My guess would be that Peterle played his cards badly. He could continue with the mild, vague campaign of the first round, probably lose the elections anyway, but at least keep the credibility and honour. Probably he was forced to fight more offensively, since PM Janša didn’t like the increasing strenght of Türk and the parties behind him (DESUS as part of his government and Social Democrats + Zares). Slovenians reacted to Peterle’s “privatizationâ€? of independence negatively and sanctioned his rhetorics, opinions and behaviour. From a clear winner he turned into a clear loser.

The interventions of Janša and Rupel made sure that the vote on the President turned out to be a vote on the performance of the government. With the increasing inflation, bad performance of many ministers and Janša’s attitude towards media, this was a good recipe for a flop. And so it was.

Türk will take over the new post in December, with a very strong mandate and under considerable pressure from the current government. He inspires trust and seems a very reasonable person. More than a politician he appears an intellectual (professor of International Law) and morally honest. Which should secure him a successful mandate.

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