Slovenia votes in tight parliamentary elections

Populist PM Janez Jansa faces a tough challenge from the liberal candidate in the politically divided EU nation.

Slovenians are casting ballots in the parliamentary elections that are expected to be a tight race between the right-wing populist party of Prime Minister Janez Jansa and opposition green-liberals in the politically divided European Union nation.

Polls opened at 7am (05:00 GMT) on Sunday and polling will continue till 7pm (17:00 GMT). Exit polls are expected to be published soon afterwards.

About 1.7 million voters are enrolled to elect their representatives from a host of candidates running for seats in the 90-member legislature. The ruling conservative Slovenian Democratic Party and newly formed Freedom Movement have led polls ahead of the vote.

Surveys, however, have suggested that there could be no clear winner, leading to the formation of a coalition government after the vote, 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, 63, said upon voting on Sunday. “Expectations are good.”

Jansa became prime minister a little more than two years ago after the previous liberal Prime Minister Marjan Sarec resigned.

An admirer of former US President Donald Trump, Jansa has pushed the country to the right since taking over at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Al Jazeera’s Nikolina Zavisic, reporting from Ljubjana, said it was too close to predict who might win the vote despite the stark difference between the main challengers.

“Slovenian society is at the moment very divided, radicalised and polarised. Voters are choosing between two different paths for their future. One path is cooperation within European institutions and the other one is more independence. It is a very tight election.”

The main challenger

The main challenger is US-educated former business executive Robert Golob and his Freedom Movement party. The party has advocated green energy transition and sustainable development over Jansa’s nation-centred narrative.

The two blocs are projected to win an almost equal number of votes – roughly 20-25 percent – which would mean the composition and course of the future government could depend on which smaller groups pass the 4 percent election threshold. Observers have given Golob a better chance than Jansa of gathering a post-election alliance.

Jansa’s SDS won the most votes in an election four years ago, but could not initially find partners for a coalition government. He took over after lawmakers from centrist and left-leaning groups switched sides following the resignation of Sarec in 2020.

Jansa has since faced accusations of sliding towards authoritarian rule in the style of his ally, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

He 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. They argue that Jansa, if re-elected, would push the traditionally moderate nation further away from “core” EU democratic values and towards other populist regimes.

The Freedom House democracy watchdog recently said, “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.”

Jansa has denied this, portraying himself as a victim of an elaborate left-wing smear plot. To polish his image before the election, he distanced himself from Orban and adopted a tough stance towards Russia over the invasion of Ukraine.

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