Slovenia, an ex-Yugoslav republic, has opened polls to vote for a new president.
The post to be decided on in Sunday’s vote is largely ceremonial, but the present head of state, Danilo Turk, has been a thorn in the side of centre-right Prime Minister Janez Jansa as he attempted to implement reforms and austerity cuts.
Opinion polls indicate, however, that Turk will come first in the election, although not with enough of the vote to win in the first round.
A second round run-off, likely pitting Turk against Jansa’s centre-left predecessor Borut Pahor, is set for December 2.
Slovenia, once a model EU country is in the throes of one of the deepest downturns in the eurozone with the European Commission predicting last week that output will shrink a painful 2.3 per cent this year and 1.6 per cent in 2013.
Large volumes of bad loans at Slovenia’s banks have raised fears that the country of two million people may become the latest in the 17-nation European currency union to need outside help.
Slovenia’s credit ratings have been slashed, mostly because of the banks, and borrowing rates on its sovereign debt have soared to seven per cent, a level regarded as unsustainable in the long term without assistance.
A new government led by Jansa took office in February after the collapse of Pahor’s administration last year and has launched a series of austerity measures aimed at stabilising public finances and reforming the country’s pension and labour systems.
During the electoral campaign Turk, 60, a law professor who worked at the United Nations under former secretary general Kofi Annan, openly and repeatedly questioned Jansa’s policies.
“The economic situation is difficult, but not extraordinary. There is no use of dramatising the situation and threatening. The government’s assessments of the situation are more alarming than they should be,” Turk warned during one television debate.