In anticipation of a new momentum in Slovenian political arena
With parliamentary, local and presidential elections all being held this year in Slovenia, 2022 has been dubbed “super election year”.
Presidential election campaign is taking place in the atmosphere of Robert Golob‘s Freedom Movement (Gibanje Svoboda) convincing victory in the April parliamentary elections and the ensuing tectonic changes in Slovenian political arena. After parliamentary elections the new Slovenian coalition government was appointed, led by Prime Minister Robert Golob and comprising the Freedom Movement (GS), the Social Democrats (SD) and the Left (Levica).
Nine candidates will compete at the first round of election for the president of the Republic of Slovenia scheduled for 23 October 2022, of which five men and two women. Slovenia will get its fifth democratically elected president since the country proclaimed independence in 1991. So far this function has been carried out by Milan Kučan (two terms in office), Janez Drnovšek, Danilo Türk and Borut Pahor (two terms in office). The eventual runoff will take place on 13 November 2022.
The seven candidates standing for election in the first round are: 1. Milan Brglez – Freedom Movement – Social Democrats (Gibanje Svoboda – Socialni demokrati), 2. Anže Logar – independent candidate supported by Slovenian Democratic Party (Slovenska Demokratska Stranka – SDS), 3. Janez Cigler Kralj – New Slovenia – Christian Democrats (Nova Slovenija – krščanski demokrati), 4. Miha Kordiš – the Left (Levica), 5. Nataša Pirc Musar – an independent candidate, 6. Vladimir Prebilič – an independent candidate, and 7. Sabina Senčar – Resni.ca Party (Stranka Resni.ca).
There are altogether 1,696,893 eligible voters in Slovenia, with the entire country representing a single constituency.
Slovenia needs new goals
The situation in domestic and foreign environment, especially following the Covid-19 pandemic and the Ukrainian crisis, has had a strong impact on Slovenia as well. The country is also not immune to growing corruption in the EU, which according to some estimations costs Europe around 200 billion EUR every year. Fight against crime and corruption and the much-needed reforms have been a special challenge for Slovenian state in the last years.
Slovenia became a full member of NATO and EU in 2004, joined the Eurozone and the Schengen area in 2007 and became a member of OECD in 2010, and it is also a member of numerous other international organisations. It was a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council (1998-1999), it presided the Council of the European Union twice (2008 and 2021) and is currently vying together with Belarus for the third non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council for the 2024-2025 period.
With all those achievements, Slovenian political leaders were left without any new goals for the future. The political elites were exhausted and unprepared for any further visionary or ambitious action. For example, they have not sufficiently exploited EU membership for national interests, like Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia and some other new member states have done. In 2004, Slovenia was at the very top among the ten new EU member states, while now it is ranked in the middle. The country will have to create a more attractive business environment for foreign investments, which it cannot achieve with its present legislation and incentives. A better, more reliable and brighter future will have to be provided to Slovenia and its young generation, which is increasingly leaving the country for economic reasons.
Slovenia is marked with strong political polarisation with a fierce struggle between the so-called forces of continuity (former communists) symbolised by former President Milan Kučan, and the Slovenian Spring led by the former Prime Minister and leader of Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS) Janez Janša. The new Prime Minister Robert Golob will therefore have the task to put an end to the historical political polarization in the country and to create consensus in the society when it comes to the key future issues. During the years of cyclical boom and high economic growth, political polarisation did not cause any significant problems to this most successful novice among the countries of the former Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY). However, with the economic crisis and recession growing in the world and Europe, all the problems came to light in Slovenia – the crisis revealed all the mistakes the country has made since it gained independence. Most of them stem from the processes of privatisation of former socially owned (state) property. In order to continue its rapid development, Slovenia has to eliminate inner tensions and regulate relations with the neighbouring countries.
The prevailing opinion is that Slovenia needs to set new goals, despite the fact that it is an EU member state. This will be another task of Robert Golob’s government. Excuses that the state as a rule follows the policy set by the EU or Brussels point to the fact that Slovenia lacks a clear vision, creativity and concepts for the future Against the background of geopolitical changes and the shifting world order, Slovenia will be forced to look for its own solutions and follow its own interests, which means that it should strengthen its position in the EU and other organisations, develop strong bilateral relations beyond the EU, make new partnership and look for new markets where Slovenia has not been present yet or where its presence has been very weak so far.
Is Slovenia controlled by informal centres of power
Consolidation of the country and dealing with the energy and food crisis are the priority tasks of Robert Golob’s government, which must at the same time overcome several decades of conflicts between the key actors within the state. The informal and parallel centres of power that were formed have actually been leading the country from the backstage and caused problems to any government that wanted to act transparently and in the public interest. According to some analysts it is those centres of power together with lobbies that have the main control over the state of Slovenia, which was most evident during Prime Minister Miro Cerar‘s (Modern Centre Party – SMC) government.
Analysts have noted that the influence of informal centres of power and parallel structures has led Slovenia to make the key strategic mistake when it allowed to be controlled by certain individuals from behind the political stage. During the past few years Slovenia has become the most isolated country in the region in relations with the USA, bearing in mind that the USA played the key role in the establishment of the independent Slovenian state. No one has taken the responsibility for this situation yet.
The influence of informal power centres is most visible when it comes to the disappearance of millions of taxpayers’ money. A school example of this would be the Bank Assets Management Company (BAMC), popularly called the Bad Bank, which had no clear criteria or model for company restructuring. For most companies that came under its ownership BAMC proposed bankruptcy proceedings, although this is already provided for in the existing legislation, which makes BAMC completely unnecessary. The winners of the establishment of BAMC are both banks that have relieved themselves of their claims on companies and significantly improved their balance sheet positions and operating results, as well as over-indebted companies (tycoons). The latter thus got rid of their debts, but thanks to non-transparent proceedings and personal connections with BAMC through third (foreign) persons, law firms or “unrelated” companies, they acquired or even hired “their” companies or bought the claims that had been transferred to BAMC.
Analysts have noted that in early years following Slovenian independence certain social elites plundered the state, while the state is plundering itself through BAMC.
Devalued function of president of the state
During the presidency of incumbent president of the Republic of Slovenia Borut Pahor, the function of the president was devalued and undermined. The first President of the Republic of Slovenia Milan Kučan is still considered a role model among presidents.
President of the state should act as a moral authority. However, President Pahor publicly announced that he does not consider himself a moral authority. During presidential race all candidates promise to be a moral authority, but they must yet prove to the people or the voters that they really deserve to be one. On several occasions President Pahor stated that the president is not the second prime minister, which is true. However, the president has other levers that enable him or her to be very actively involved in social life and thus contribute to finding appropriate solutions, especially when it comes to the most vital issues.
If we simplistically understand moral authority as a person whom the community regards as trustworthy for making correct and good decisions, it is certainly inappropriate for an individual, even if it is the president of the state, to assess himself or herself as a moral authority. The notion of morality is nullified by the mere fact that the person describes oneself as moral – it is others who are to decide on his or her morality. It is also not appropriate for the president of the state to renounce his or her moral authority. After all, the citizens probably expect their president to be a moral authority to a certain (the largest possible) extent. By denying oneself as a moral authority, the president degrades himself or herself and the function that he or she represents, even though his or her (perhaps even noble) intention may be to appear unpretentious instead of lofty.
Whether the holder of an office is a moral authority can be assessed by various prominent individuals or groups that shape public opinion, by the media, etc. The real power of moral authority stems from the respect people attribute to his or her statements. Presidential candidates should be aware of that. It is one thing to promise to be a moral authority, but another to actually be one during the term of office. Decisions about when to express an opinion as president of the state are not always the easiest, but the president should express his or her point of view and take a stance, even if it offends certain group of voters.
The president is expected to be less populist and more upstanding, leading others by example. Respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms is an important acquisition of a modern state governed by the rule of law, and its president – as a “defender” of the constitutional order – should also defend opinions that are not liked by the majority, but are correct for the existence and development of such a state.
The voters expect the president to be above any party politics, and the president’s involvement in party politics and his pleasing of the government may cause a loss of trust among the electorate. As a rule President Pahor did not interfere significantly in any important issues, but was rather an observer or follower of events. Pahor usually remained silent or responded too late to key issues such as human rights and attacks on the media (STA – Slovenian Press Agency, RTV Slovenia Public Media Service). He was engaged in the Brdo-Brijuni process which did not bring significant added value except for the costs to tax-payers. More appropriate foreign political engagement is of vital importance for the country that is a full EU and NATO member and a candidate for non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council.
The new president is expected to bring a new momentum to Slovenian political arena and to promote Slovenia at the regional and international levels. So far, this was not the case. Despite the fact that his powers are very limited, the incumbent President Pahor was expected to contribute significantly to creating a fresh and positive atmosphere in the country.
Borut Pahor wanted to present himself as “president who promotes unity”, although during his two terms of office Slovenia was no less politically disunited than before. Most of Slovenian public does not really understand whom he wanted to unite and what kind of uniting action he took. The powers of the president need to be expanded in order to strengthen his 0r her role. For example, the president should have the right to initiate the procedure for the review of the constitutionality and legality of acts before signing them or before appointing judges etc. Moreover, Slovenia needs radical changes to the constitution which is outdated and no longer meets current needs and challenges.
Slovenia should focus again on the West Balkans, which has been neglected in the past few years while other states have strengthened their presence there. The state of Slovenia should not repeat its past mistakes, such as: the “erased” citizens (citizens erased from the register of permanent residents who thus remained without a legal status after the declaration of Slovenia’s independence in 1991), Ljubljanska Banka (LB) savers, and precarious workers. Shunning the issue of recognition of minorities from the countries of the former Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia (Albanians, Bosniaks, Montenegrins, Croats, Macedonians and Serbs), who are citizens of the Republic of Slovenia, weakens the credibility of the Republic of Slovenia in the West Balkan region and as well as in the European Union. It is difficult to build credibility with no excuse for not recognising the minority status to Slovenian citizens coming from former SFRY republics.
Not much interest in presidential election
There is not much interest in Slovenia for presidential election, even though this is the highest political position in the state that calls for avant-garde politicians who would be able to cope with the newly-arising circumstances and future challenges. Among the candidates there are no leading Slovenian politicians and the election campaign has not attracted much attention from the general public in Slovenia, and even less internationally.
The candidates that drew most public attention are Nataša Pirc Musar, Anže Logar and Milan Brglez, who all undoubtedly possess the competences for this function.
Nataša Pirc Musar, an attorney with PhD in law, is an independent candidate with strong support from two former presidents, Milan Kučan and Danilo Türk. Her advantage is that she does not belong to established political structures, which allows her to address and reach out to the entire political spectrum of voters.
Anže Logar, a member of SDS with PhD in sociology, is an independent candidate backed by Janša’s right-wing Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS) which is very close to Viktor Orban‘s Fidesz. Until recently, Logar was Slovenian Minister of Foreign Affairs. He targets the right-centre voters.
Milan Brglez, with PhD in international relations, is backed by the ruling coalition parties Freedom Movement (GS) and Social Democrats (SD) whose member he is. He was former Speaker of the National Assembly of the republic of Slovenia and is currently Member of the European Parliament. He targets the left-centre and centre voters.
Analysts believe that in order to succeed at forthcoming election, Anže Logar should clearly distance himself from Janez Janša and Slovenian Democratic Party which suffered plebiscitary defeat at recent parliamentary elections when the Freedom Movement won. Likewise, Milan Brglez should clearly distance himself from incumbent President of Slovenia Borut Pahor and the Social Democrats whose chairman Pahor used to be. Such distance would enable both candidates to win more favour among the general electorate, while for both of them as individuals this would be a political suicide. This situation suits best Nataša Pirc Musar, who is not backed by any political party and does not have to distance herself from anybody and as such targets the voters from the whole political spectrum.
Researches have shown that the run-off will be held between Anže Logar and Nataša Pirc Musar. The latter’s success may be threatened by Milan Brglez who covers a part of the same electoral. Brglez can enter the runoff if he manages to gain voter’s affection through strong support from the backstage during the last week of the election campaign.
President of the state should not be indebted to anyone, especially not to political parties. He or she should be more active in taking stances on the key issues in the society. With the world facing enormous changes, the new president of the state is expected to reposition his or her role as president and bring a new momentum to Slovenian political arena, in order to continue the consolidation of the state which begun when the incumbent Robert Golob’s government came to power. For the first time in Slovenia’s history there is a real chance that the country would be led by a woman – after four consecutive male presidents.
Published by IFIMES Ljubljana, 20 October 2022 IFIMES – International Institute for Middle-East and Balkan studies, based in Ljubljana, Slovenia, has a special consultative status with the Economic and Social Council ECOSOC/UN, New York, since 2018.