What does the Slovenian elections mean for the country?

05/05/2022
1110 Read

Gaj Kolšek

Gaj Kolšek is a Slovenian political writer and activist.

Slovenian politics is an affair-driven system that demands new parties and new faces to replace the old, following the old's return to fix the newcomers' mistakes.

Many people saw the elections on April 24th, 2022, as some hopeful dawn for Slovenian politics. For the 4th time in 11 years, the election's winner was a newly formed party, known as the Freedom Movement, led by Robert Golob, a former director of a national energy firm with limited political experience.

Slovenes had enough of Janša. The freedom movement got 35% of the vote, and 70% of eligible voters participated, the highest since 2004. The high voter turnout was that for the past two years, Janez Janša of the Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS) was the prime minister and his controversy-filled mandate. Many parties made anti-janšism a big part of their campaign leading up to the elections. Once again, Slovenia has a new party in charge.

Slovenia's political situation over the past two decades has been one of hope and eventual disappointment. In 2004, Janez Janša won his first election, and despite some controversies, he finished his mandate. After that, current president Borut Pahor won the election with the Social Democrats (SD), who he was president at the time. After a few affairs and two parties leaving the coalition, a no-confidence motion was successful. Still, the government finished current affairs till the next government was formed in 2012. Firstly, on December 4th, 2011, elections were held. Zoran Jankovič, mainly known for his many years as mayor of Ljubljana's capital city, won the election with his newly formed party, Positive Slovenia (PS).

He was unsuccessful in forming a coalition, forcing him to give up his ideas. Following controversies and significant opposition from the public, a no-confidence motion succeeded in 2013. Meaning that the mandate fell to the party who came in the second, behold the second term of Janez Janša.

The mandate to form the 11th Slovenian government was given to Alenka Bratušek from PS, who became the first woman to hold the position of prime minister in Slovenia's history. It was a volatile time for Slovenia, with protests happening frequently, and quick change of governments made it hard to do the job competently. In May 2014, Alenka Bratušek resigned from her position. The government finished current affairs till the next election.

In the 2014 elections, the newly formed party named after its leader Miro Cerar (SMC) won the election with almost 35% of the votes. The new government almost completed its missions, but following a significant debate on infrastructure, and many attempts for a no-confidence vote by the opposition, mainly SDS, Miro Cerar resigned in March 2018.

SDS won the 2018 elections, but he failed to form a government because of opposition from coalition partners, despite winning 25% of the votes. The mandate was given to the second-placed, newly formed party, with just under 13%, led by Marjan Šarec.

It was the first minority coalition in Slovenian history. After its project partner, the Left, abandoned cooperation with the alliance, it put the government in an awkward situation. Following the resignation of the finance minister, the prime minister Šarec also called for his resignation, breaking up the government in 2020.

With all this political turmoil and inconsistency leading up to 2020,  more challenging times are expected. Well into the start of the coronavirus epidemic, a new government was formed, the 13th in Slovenia's history, led by the party that won the 2018 elections, SDS, and their cult leader Janez Janša. This government was instrumental in the results of the 2022 elections. For the second time, Janša was in office, just as Slovenia held the presidency of the Council of the European Union.

During Janša's third term, new traditions started, as protests continued for over 100 Fridays. The political situation hadn't been this tense since around 2011. With all the controversies you usually expect in our governments, the coronavirus just added more opportunities for the government to serve itself.

At this point, Janša had entirely given into the Orban-type populist rhetoric in his behavior. He was using a particular method, being a constant poster of tweets. Using Twitter to attack political opponents and journalists, vulgarism and aggression came from the tweets he re-tweeted. He was putting state media in an embarrassing position, trying to limit them and defund them.

Janša's third term was unhopeful; hope was rising for Slovenians who were sick of him. He was discrediting everyone who called him out for his suspicious behavior. He even got into a predicament with the European Union, who also tried to call him out on multiple occasions. 

Until the elections of 2022 began. With many Slovenians counting down the days to election day, they were set for significant participation.

It had two consequences. Firstly, people didn't know what to expect, and no one could guess that would happen, apart from the first two polling parties to battle it out. Secondly, the threshold of 4% was harder to reach because of good participation. Tactical voting also denied good results for at least three more parties.

According to a study from Valicon, an institute studying consumers, around 46% of voters voted tactically, voting for the party that wasn't their natural first choice. As a result, only five parties ended up making the parliament.

The absolute winner of the election was the Freedom Movement, led by Robert Golob. They won almost 35% of the vote. Still, They ended up with a record-breaking 41 seats (out of 90 in the parliament), almost giving them a constitutive majority. Second place was secured by SDS, led by Janez Janša, who still ended up gaining seats (27), compared to 2018, even though they got a slightly smaller percentage of votes.

Next in the race was the Christian party New Slovenia (NSI), led by former defense minister (in the last government) Matej Tonin, who was caught in some controversy because of ill-advised purchases of military vehicles.

The party has also gained seats (8) in comparison to 2018. The last two remaining parties lost seats compared to 2018 and many votes. The Left was the most shocking, who only won 5 seats and only beat the threshold in the least percentage of votes counted.

The SD entered the assembly with seven seats. The latter parties have been in the opposition for the past two years and showed limited competence.

These elections set us up for an exciting next four years. The election is compared to the 2011 elections, where Golob's friend and, at the time, the party won the election but failed to form a coalition.

The advantage that Golob has is that he almost has a majority by himself, and the Left and SD are both interested and probable to form the coalition. Because of all these new parties, Slovenia has been filled with too many parties and a cramped, inconsistent parliament, leading to new parties being formed that cannot form consistent programs due to much of them relying on opposing the previous incompetent government.

It's like a never-ending cycle that we are trapped in, but maybe it could work out (said every Slovenian, every election). A smaller government could make it easier for successful operation, but nothing is a given in Slovenia.

Many think this was the victory for liberal democracy over populism, but that is not the case. The opposition's battle versus Janša ended up being no less populistic. Still, it can be argued that the milder political ideology makes this victory worth the pain.

One of the problems facing Slovenia is a hostile atmosphere that leads to populistic tactics from parties and little to no effort being given to consistent, lasting programs that serve the country in the long term.

Political showdowns end up more like a farce, featuring petty passive aggressiveness and no actual points being made. It's an affair-driven system that demands new parties and new faces to replace the old, following the old's return to fix the new's mistakes. Maybe there is hope this time, but recalling history, one would have doubts.

Slovenia has been independent for a little over 30 years. Our political identity has not yet been formed, and neither have strong parties that are consistent and lasting. Since Janša's affair filled term that lasted till 2008, there have been five different governments, and now Slovenians have voted for our sixth time.

Slovenian politics seem to be spinning in a circle, switching between newly formed parties shining with hope and the only consistent party, SDS. In just 30 years, Slovenians have voted in 14 general elections, with a new government every two years, on average. They have a big group of loyal voters.

Slovenia is a small country, and for it to succeed, it needs an open and consistent political sphere in which the government can cooperate. But it is not that easy. Slovenia is split into many different worldviews, from following right-wingers to following left-wingers, and an incoherent center, which is filled with too many parties who have similar programs.

This hurt the parties of two former prime ministers, Alenka Bratušek (SAB) and Marjan Šarec (LMŠ), who were part of the opposition in 2018-2020.

New faces falling off after limited success and resignation is nothing new in Slovenia, had LMŠ and SAB run as one party, they probably would have made the parliament. Still, Slovenia has too many parties who are unwilling to see their autonomy for the betterment of society, at least that's how I see it.

With students, cultural workers, and even other workers still in less than fortunate situations, there is significant hope for everyone, wishing that the new government be fair and competent. The currently proposed coalition of GS, SD, and the Left could be decent, and the opposition of SDS and NSI can be coherent and intelligent enough to keep the government in check or cause trouble.

Slovenia is clearing up from a turbulent few years, or even a few decades, so it isn't easy to have realistic expectations from the new government. Many people have wishes, but if anything, people feel more possibilities of influencing political decisions. In the past few years, a sense of empowerment has evolved that the masses have not felt in a while.

It was visible from the participation in the elections and the protests, good or bad. If not good, the times in front of us are interesting at the least, and one should look forward to what tomorrow holds.

 

 

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