A liberal party led by political newcomer Robert Golob leads Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa’s conservatives in parliamentary elections, according to an exit poll, amid concerns over rule-of-law issues in the deeply polarised European Union member.
Freedom Movement (GS) garnered 35.8 percent of the vote, compared to 22.5 percent for three-time prime minister Jansa’s Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS), according to the poll conducted by the Mediana polling agency and published by public broadcaster TV Slovenia and commercial Pop TV on Sunday.
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If confirmed in an official tally, the result would mean that the Freedom Movement, a newcomer in the election, stands a better chance of forming the next government in a coalition with smaller centre-left groups, a blow to Jansa, a populist who has been accused of pushing the country to the right while in power.
Higher-than-usual turnout marked the parliamentary election in Slovenia, reflecting strong voter interest in the race between the ruling right-wing populist party of Jansa and opposition green liberals in the politically divided nation.
Nearly 50 percent of Slovenia’s 1.7 million voters had cast ballots by mid-afternoon, according to state election authorities.
If the trend were to continue throughout the day, it would mean that some 15 percent more voters turned up at the polling stations compared with the previous election in 2018.
Observers had predicted a tight race between SDS and GS, which led the polls ahead of the vote for the 90-member legislature.
Pre-vote surveys predicted that no single party would be able to form a government on its own and that after the vote, a coalition government would have to be formed, made up of at least three or four parties.
“Today is an important day as these elections decide how Slovenia will develop not only in the next four years, but in the next decade,” Jansa said as he voted on Sunday.
“Expectations are good.”
Jansa became prime minister a little over two years ago after the previous liberal incumbent resigned.
Golob has the backing of several centre-left opposition parties with whose help he could be able to form a majority in the 90-member parliament.
Analysts have given Golob a better chance than Jansa of forming a post-election alliance with the centrist and left-leaning groups that pass the four percent election threshold.
Jansa’s SDS won the most votes in an election four years ago, but couldn’t initially find partners for a coalition government.
He took over after legislators from centrist and left-leaning groups switched sides following the resignation in 2020 of liberal Prime Minister Marjan Sarec.
Jansa has since faced accusations of sliding towards authoritarian rule in the style of his ally, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
Jansa came under EU scrutiny amid reports that he pressured opponents and public media, and installed loyalists in key positions for control over state institutions. Liberals have described Sunday’s election as a referendum on Slovenia’s future.
The Freedom House democracy watchdog recently said that “while political rights and civil liberties are generally respected [in Slovenia], the current right-wing government has continued attempts to undermine the rule of law and democratic institutions, including the media and judiciary.”
The 63-year-old political veteran Jansa has denied this, portraying himself as a victim of an elaborate leftist smear plot.