Slovenians vote in divisive elections

Slovenians vote in divisive elections

Slovenians vote in divisive elections

Slovenians vote in divisive elections

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Slovenians voted in parliamentary elections on Sunday, with conservative Prime Minister Janez Jansa facing up against a political novice in the polarised EU country.

Jansa, 63, an ally of nationalist Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and admirer of US ex-president Donald Trump, is polling head-to-head with Robert Golob, formerly a solar power entrepreneur.

Sporting a tie in the national colors of Ukraine, blue and yellow, Jansa cast his vote early in his village of Arnace in the northwest.

“Turnout will certainly be high and that is good…. I hope that we will continue along the path that was set,” Jansa told reporters.

At 4:00 pm (1400 GMT), 49.3 percent of the 1.7 million electorate had voted — compared to 34.4 percent who turned out by same time in the last parliamentary elections in 2018, the Electoral Commission said.

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The three-time premier has campaigned on promises of stability, while analysts say concerns over the rule of law have boosted the opposition in the Alpine ex-Yugoslav state with a population of about two million.

“Elections will decide how will Slovenia develop not only in the next four years but also during the whole next decade since many projects have been set up,” Jansa said.

Tens of thousands of people have attended regular antigovernmental rallies, accusing Jansa of authoritarianism since he took power in March 2020.

Billing the elections as a “referendum on democracy”, the opposition accuses Jansa of trying to undermine democratic institutions and press freedoms like his ally Orban in neighboring Hungary.

“If this pace continues, we will be very close to that (tightening of state control like in Hungary and Poland) in four years,” Uros Esih, a columnist at one of Slovenia’s leading dailies Delo, told AFP.

He said the elections represented a “breaking point” with “liberal and illiberal political forces clashing” in Slovenia.

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“I hope the situation will change… It is obvious that most of the people are not satisfied with this government and the way it’s governing,” Sara Rigler, a 21-year-old psychology student, told AFP at a polling station in the capital Ljubljana.

The rise of 55-year-old Golob began when he took over a small Green party in January, renaming it Freedom Movement (GS).

The last poll from late Friday showed GS at more than 27 percent of the popular vote, slightly ahead of Jansa’s Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS) with 24 percent, though analysts warn numerous voters may make last-minute decisions.

Golob, who has promised to restore “normality”, also has the backing of several centre-left opposition parties.

Jansa, even with centre-right allies, looks unlikely to be able to secure a majority in the 90-seat parliament.

Analysts have been expecting an increased turnout with voters turning against Jansa’s style.

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His image in the last two years has also been hurt by rows with Brussels over his moves to suspend funding to the national news agency and drag out the appointment of prosecutors to the bloc’s new anti-graft body.

Though Jansa was among the first foreign leaders to travel to Kyiv, on March 15, after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Moscow’s assault has not taken centre stage in Slovenia’s election campaign.

“These elections are absolutely important… I hope and wish that this government stays. It has been doing a great job,” priest Andrej Mazej told AFP at the voting station in Jansa’s village.

Jansa already served as prime minister between 2004 and 2008, and 2012-2013. Only a year into his second term as premier, he was forced out by a corruption scandal.

Polls close at 7:00 pm (1700 GMT) with exit polls due shortly after.

Igor Krsinar, a contributor for Reporter Magazine, a rare critical conservative voice, claimed that the polls will determine “between democracy and autocracy.”

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