On Sunday 15 October, Slovenia held its fourth multi-party and third parliamentary elections since independence in 1991. The country is divided into eight electoral districts, and eleven parties fielded candidates in all eight. Among them were the six parties now in Parliament, Liberal Democracy of Slovenia (LDS), the SLS+SKD Slovene People's Party, the Social Democrats (SDS), the United List of Social Democrats (ZLSD), the Pensioners' Party (DeSUS) and the Nationalists (SNS). Five non-parliamentary parties also ran: the Democrats (DS), the New Party (NOVA), the United Greens, the Slovene Youth Party (SMS) and New Slovenia—Christian People's Party (NSi).
According to the daily Večer, the biggest winners were the LDS, NSi and SMS. The LDS, led by reformed Communists, won back its leading position in Parliament with a significantly higher share of the vote than at the last elections four years ago. The present election was the first for both the NSi and SMS. Both parties were formed only this year, and according to preliminary results won enough of the vote to enter Parliament.
The preliminary results
Official results will not be announced until 24 October, but preliminary results show an overwhelming victory for the LDS. As of October, they had won 36.26 per cent of the vote, which translates into 34 seats. In 1996, they won 27.8 per cent and 25 seats. The win was no surprise, since all polls conducted during the campaign showed the LDS winning as much as 40 per cent.
In second place was the SDS with 15.82 per cent and 14 seats, down from 16.02 per cent and 16 seats in 1996. The ZLSD was third with 12.08 per cent and 11 seats, up from 9.05 per cent and nine seats four years ago.
LDS leader Janez Drnovšek is the most likely choice for Prime Minister. Drnovšek, a 50-year old economist, held the post of Prime Minister from 1992 until this April, when he was forced to step down as Prime Minister after the collapse of his governing coalition. However, he reconsidered and ran in the present elections. When asked if he would accept the Prime Minister mandate, Drnovšek said: "In light of these results, it would be almost impossible to say no."
Janez Drnovšek was not the only politician to renege on his word in this election. At their last congress, the SDS decided that they would boycott the elections if Parliament failed to pass a version of the electoral law that was supported in a 1996 referendum.
This summer, Parliament passed a different version, leading to the collapse of the governing coalition made up of the SLS+SKD and the SDS. Ultimately, the SDS did participate in the present elections, and, afterwards, party leader Janez Janša told the press that the elections were legal and the results are legitimate, even though they are morally questionable.
A natural experiment
Analysts at the weekly Mladina compared campaigns to laboratories in which voters are shown what would happen if they voted for whichever party. This year, however, the analysts pointed out that no laboratory was needed, since the experiment was conducted in nature.
Until April of this year, the left-center bloc led by the LDS was in control of the government. The coalition fell in April, however, and a right-center bloc led by the SLS+SKD Slovene People's Party took power. Over the course of the past year, therefore, voters were shown how both groups worked in practice and were able to vote for their choice with full knowledge of their leadership styles.
The right-center bloc which has led the government for the past four months has consistently received low approval ratings, and this translated into poor showings for the SLS+SKD and SDS in the present elections.
Election season was marked by a number of high-profile events which distracted the electorate, including the Olympics, two major national soccer team games, the ski down Mount Everest and the revolution in Serbia. Voter turn out, however, was not significantly affected at about 70 per cent. Four years ago, it was only four percentage points higher. In the first parliamentary elections after independence in 1992, turn out was 85.6 per cent.
Slovene Spring falls short
The Slovene Spring parties, the SLS+SKD Slovene People's Party and the SDS, together with the NSi, were formed at the time of independence by conservative members of the dissident movement. In 1996, the SLS, SKD and SDS had won half of the seats in Parliament. This year, they barely won one-third.
Back in April, the SLS and SKD united and collapsed the ruling coalition. The new SLS+SKD Slovene People's Party then rejected calls for early elections and pushed for the approval of their prime ministerial candidate, Andrej Bajuk, which they ultimately received. The party thought that taking over the government would give them an advantage in the elections, but their conduct in office has cost them dearly.
The party knew during the campaign that they were in a poor position, and so they tried two major ploys to attract support. First, party leader Franc Zagožen secured a private meeting with the Pope at the Vatican. Then, the party announced that their candidate for Prime Minister would be the governor of the National Bank, Franc Arhar. Even though the National Bank is the second most trusted state institution after the office of the President, the electorate were not impressed.
More parties despite new law
A new election law was passed this summer that, among other changes, made it necessary for parties to take at least four per cent of the vote in order to enter Parliament. Previously, the threshold was only 3.2 per cent.
The move was made in an attempt to lessen the number of parties in Parliament, but this did not play out in practice. Of the 16 parties that ran, eight of them won more than the required four per cent. The remaining eight combined did not win more than four per cent.
According to the preliminary results, three parties of the eight expected to enter Parliament only won slightly more than the four per cent but that could change before the final results are released next week.
Young people can work wonders
One such party is the Slovene Youth Party (SMS). Just formed in July, Mladina predicted the SMS would take less than one per cent at the end of the summer. Their campaign and their message, however, touched a nerve with the country, and just a week before the election the daily Delo predicted a five per cent share for the party. The preliminary results show them with just above four per cent.
Commenting on the preliminary results, party President Dominik S Černjak told Večer: "The results show that Slovenia needs something different, something like the SMS. Considering the fact that we have only been around for a few months, it reminds us that young people can work wonders."
Party leaders feel they made such a strong showing their first time out of the gate because they were able to attract voters of all ages with their youth
Unlike the other parties, which are clearly defined in terms of ideology and history, the SMS is striving to be non-ideological and unburdened by the past. The party is not concerned with entering the governing coalition and told the press that, whether they end up in the government or in the opposition, they will support all initiatives which they feel are constructive.
Early predictions showed that the pensioner's party DeSUS would not win enough votes to enter Parliament. The constituency of DeSUS is made up primarily of older, retired people, and It would have been a significant statement on the future of Slovenia had the SMS taken the place of DeSUS in Parliament. Preliminary results, however, show DeSUS with four seats, the same as the SMS. [For more information on the SMS, see Brian J Požun's article "Fisting and Winning" in CER]
What's next for the government?
The official results of the elections will be announced early next week, on 24 October. President Milan Kučan must convene Parliament no later than 20 days after elections, and it appears that 4 November will be the big day. After that, the Parliament will then have until January to form a government, which will be led by the election's big winner, the LDS.
The LDS has already begun talks on forming a coalition with both the ZLSD and the SLS+SKD Slovene People's Party. They are also planning to start talks with the SNS, SMS and DeSUS. The only parties which are not likely to enter the governing coalition are the SDS and NSi, which had announced during the campaign that they would be unwilling to work in a coalition with the LDS.
The LDS and ZLSD are both right-center parties, and together should hold 45 of the 90 seats in Parliament. In coalition with DeSUS and the SNS, they would have a majority of 53 seats, more than enough to ensure that their four-year mandate would be smooth. However, the LDS leadership seems intent on forming a grand coalition that will also include the right-center SLS+SKD. The final coalition agreement will be known later this year.
Brian J Požun, 23 October 2000
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